Responsible recycling of e-waste
Rubin emphasizes that to FCM and its customers, the responsible recycling of e-waste is a very important factor.
He says there's two key elements to it. "Number one, our customers need to be sure that their data is being handled safely," he says. "Let's face it, in today's world there's a lot of information on a hard drive, a printer, a photocopier, and it really needs to be dealt with. For us, the safest way to handle that data is to put it in a shredder, leaving zero ability to reconstruct that hard drive or printer or fax machine.
"Number two, we need to keep as high of a landfill diversion rate as possible, which allows our customers to go back to their shareholders and stakeholders and show what impact they're having on the environment."
Currently, he says they have a 99.2 percent diversion rate, and the way they work with customers is that the higher the recycling rate they can provide, the higher the compensation. "So we guarantee them a certain recycling rate, and if we're able to exceed that, there's a bonus to it."
He says they also produce CO2 reports, which are basically emission offset reports that customers can show to their stakeholders, detailing how many tons of carbon they've saved from the atmosphere by having their goods recycled.
"Right now, unfortunately, there's no legal requirement for companies to make sure their end-of-life goods are properly handled and safely disposed," he says. "We operate under the hopes that good samaritans, which there are many out there, will choose the green option, not the cheapest option, ensuring that their data is protected and that as much material as possible is diverted from landfill.
"When material comes to us, we're not just harvesting what's valuable and landfilling the rest. We're properly dealing with the mercury that's coming in scanner-based devices and batteries are being properly treated. Leaded glass from old CRT-TVs is also being properly disposed of and handled.
"When we receive goods and we promise destruction, we issue a certification of destruction, putting our reputation on the line that it is destroyed. And we are absolutely legally liable in the event of a breach. As are all recyclers treating sensitive data."
With respect to the illegal overseas dumping of e-waste Rubin says this issue is a tough one, but not one that he sees as a common occurrence in Canada. He says that once certifications are achieved there is a compensation scheme managed by the EPRA (Electronics Product Recycling Association) which allows for payment to properly process e-waste.
"The people that we deal with are all on the level, and therefore are not exporting any waste illegally," he says.
Rubin explains how they undergo very rigorous audits to the R2 standard as well as the Canadian standard known as RQP (Recycler Qualification Program). FCM is audited through a quarterly mass balancing and is required to account for any materials that come in, show where it went, and is subject to surprise audits as well as health and safety audits. FCM is also ISO 9001, 14001, 18001 certified, as are most Canadian recyclers, according to Rubin.
When it comes to tracing materials once they leave FCM, Rubin says that it's a question of knowing which companies materials are going to and that those companies are all certified.
"We conduct an on-site audit for every company where we're sending goods," he says. "So we're able to track those materials all the way through to final disposition, and we have to have an R2 approval and an RQO (RQP) approval to use a downstream processor. So they're vetted quite heavily."
The path to improving on E-waste recycling in canada
In Canada, the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), a not-for-profit organization based out of Mississauga, Ontario, is responsible for managing government-approved programs that are established by manufacturers, retailers and other stakeholders to collect and responsibly recycle end-of-life electronics.
"The EPRA has done a really great job in harmonizing the market, making it fluid across the all the provinces, so recyclers know what to expect, and can have proper treatment schemes in place," Rubin says.
He adds though that the EPRA has been a little bit limited in some provinces. Ontario is an example. When it comes to e-scrap, Rubin refers to the provincial climate there as a free market where private companies can collect directly from consumers and they are only allowed to service other businesses.
"A lot of businesses have popped up trying to make money by buying e-scrap from the public and then brokering it over to electronic recyclers who then apply for a tipping fee to Ontario Electronic Stewardship," he explains. "The problem is that electronic waste inherently has a negative intrinsic value. So unlike a car where you can take what's valuable and get rid of the rest, we have to treat a lot of deleterious elements, a lot of hazardous items at cost.
"This means that once a recycler has gone through the whole process of treating electronic waste, it actually costs more to treat it than the value of products generated. So what happens in Ontario, is because you're paying out so much money to get the goods, there's very little margin there for you to actually process the goods."
Because of this, FCM considers the Ontario market to be a little bit stalled and it is not a main focus for them.
"Plus, we're always competing with landfill," Rubin adds. "So what we feel is needed is a ban on electronics to landfill."
He says they would also like to see collection programs expanded in Ontario and in all provinces to encompass a wider range of consumer goods, like in British Columbia, where collection and EPR doesn't stop at electronics. It extends itself all the way into toasters and microwaves, vacuum cleaners and power drills.
"That's a huge source of product that needs to be diverted from landfill," he says. "And unfortunately, in most places in Canada, this category of waste is kind of caught up a little bit in the legislative framework.
"To add another product to an EPR program means regulators have to open up the legislation, change it, rework things, have a debate, and so it is a slow process."
At FCM, they would love to see these kinds of changes move faster. As Rubin says, "there remains simply too many items going into landfill that really do not need to." RPN
This article was originally published in the January/February edition of Recycling Product News, Volume 26, Number 1.