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Staples Joins e-Stewards. So What?

May 7, 2013

Staples recently became the first major consumer electronics company to take the e-Steward pledge, which means that the office-supply giant will almost exclusively use e-Steward Certified recyclers. This is a big deal for consumers looking to recycle e-waste more easily and knowingly. The company’s commitment to responsible electronics recycling should also prompt other businesses, large and small, to take note of the long-term benefits the company is promoting.

To frame the impact of Staples’ decision, let’s look at what e-Stewards Certification means. We tend to think of recycling as an unalloyed good practice. But recycling e-waste isn’t so tidy. The Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based organization that monitors toxic trading, estimates that about 70% of the world’s e-waste gets off-loaded on the developing world. Because e-waste contains high proportions and varieties of toxic materials, the countries that handle such waste suffer a disproportionate burden of toxic exposures. Worse, they don’t have the recycling infrastructure to handle the waste safely. Typically, developed world cell phones and hard drives are incinerated, land-filled, or scavenged for valuable materials – all activities that perpetuate harmful exposures to toxins.

Enter the Basel Action Network’s e-Stewards certification program. In the absence of federal regulation prohibiting recyclers from dumping waste abroad, e-Steward fills the void with a market-based standard. E-Steward certified recyclers guarantee that hazardous e-waste does not get exported to developing countries, deposited in landfills or incinerators, sent to prison labor operations, or mined for sensitive data.

Of the commitment, Staples VP of Environmental Affairs, Mark Buckley says, “In keeping with our goal of providing environmentally responsible products and services that help our customers succeed, Staples makes it easy for our customers to recycle responsibly and help the environment. This agreement is a win for customers, the environment, and responsible recyclers.”

Many e-Steward recyclers are located too far from consumers to allow for convenient drop-off. Staples’ commitment to responsible recycling, however, means consumers can drop off their e-waste at any of the 1500 Staples stores nationwide. Accepted items include: Desktop computers, laptops, tablets, eReaders, monitors, desktop printers, copiers, scanners, faxes, all-in-ones, shredders, UPS/battery backup devices, peripherals including mice, keyboards, modems, routers and PC speakers, small electronics including GPS devices, digital cameras, MP3 players, mobile phones and cordless phones, external hard drives and small servers.

Why don’t more consumer electronics companies become e-Steward Enterprises? Thibault Worth, over at GreenBiz.com, parses some of the business logic behind Staples’ decision. Frankly, using e-Steward recyclers is more expensive for most businesses and per most electronics items than off-loading waste overseas. But Staples is banking on the longer-term impact of promoting its brand as one at the forefront of the push towards sustainability. By bringing recycling customers back to its stores, Staples aims to recycle brand loyalty.

Other brands and businesses can learn from Staples’ logic. The long-term benefits of developing responsible and transparent recycling streams may outweigh the short-term savings that businesses pocket by favoring irresponsible and harmful recycling practices.

Businesses smaller than Staples should also consider the environmental and economic benefits of responsible recycling. Smaller businesses, or groups of businesses, can collaborate to hold community e-waste collection events. If run well, such events can ensure safe recycling of potentially harmful toxic materials. For advice on hosting a collection event, check out PPRC’s Rapid Response on e-Waste Collection Events. This report provides information on securing sponsors and ensuring the event complies with local regulations. Also, it provides valuable contacts and resources.

For more information on Staples’ recycling program and accepted items, check out Staples’ website.


-Cyrus Philbrick

Communications Manager

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