According to the Consumer Electronics Association, most American homes have between 15-20 electronic products. Unfortunately, the vast majority of electronic waste (e-waste) winds up in landfills or incinerators, making the U.S. the world leader in the production of e-waste. Increasing recycling efforts can lessen the demand for virgin resources to produce new electronics, and reduce the environmental impact from e-waste.
Originally developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the R2 Practices standard defines a set of practices for use in the recycling or disposal of used electronic devices, including computers, peripherals, cell phones and televisions. The practices are intended to protect public health and the environment, improve worker safety and security practices, and reduce potential exposures to hazardous materials.
The R2 Practices standard and R2 certification are typically thought to apply only to electronics recyclers. However, as used in the standard, the term "recycler" is intended to cover a wide range of entities involved in the product recycling chain. This includes not only electronics recyclers, but also electronics resellers, refurbishers, de-manufacturers, asset recoverers and equipment brokers, as well as leasing companies engaged in any of the above activities.
Recyclers that have received R2 certification have been evaluated by an independently-accredited certifying body, and must continuously demonstrate through periodic audits and other verification procedures that they safely manage used electronic devices consistent with environmental standards. R2 certification enables electronic recyclers to provide their customers with increased confidence that their used electronic equipment will be handled in an environmentally responsible manner.
The R2:2013 Practices standard was developed by the R2 Solutions Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) over a 15 month period. The revised standard is intended to clarify the requirements found in the 2008 edition of the standard and to offer additional best practices, thereby enhancing the overall quality and value of R2 certification.
Perhaps the most significant change in R2:2013 is the requirement for all R2-certified organisations to have in place a certified environmental, health and safety management system (Section 1 of the standard). Most organisations seeking R2 certification will likely meet this requirement through certification to both ISO 14001, which addresses environmental management issues, and OHSAS 18001, which covers occupational safety and health requirements.
Other important changes in the requirements of R2:2013 include:
- Under Section 3 of the standard ("Legal Requirements"), organisations importing or exporting equipment or components must comply with the import and export laws of the countries involved. Compliance with this requirement must be documented.
- Section 5 of the standard ("Focus Materials") establishes more rigorous due-diligence requirements in connection with the selection and use of so-called downstream vendors. Downstream vendor compliance with these requirements must be confirmed and documented at least annually, typically through audits.
- Section 8 of the standard ("Data Destruction") sets detailed requirements regarding the security of data during the recycling process until it has been sanitised, purged or destroyed. The standard specifically references data destruction practices found in the NIST Guidelines for Media Sanitation.
The process for achieving certification to R2:2013 typically involves the following steps:
- Stage 1 Audit - The Stage 1 audit is a mandatory step in the certification process, designed to assess the state of an organisation’s recycling operation and processes, the types of e-waste it handles, and the extent of its environmental, health and safety management practices. This assessment helps the auditor to determine the scope of certification audit and the auditing resources required.
- Documentation Review and Evaluation - In this step, the auditor reviews the organisation’s environmental, health and safety management system policy and documentation, as well as documentation of its policy implementation procedures. The document review will also typically include an evaluation of prior environmental aspect analyses and occupational health and safety risk assessments to identify areas for special attention during the certification audit.
- Certification Audit - The purpose of the certification audit is to fully assess an organisation’s compliance with the requirements of the R2 Practices standard, as well as its overall commitment to the principles of responsible recycling. Following the certification audit, the auditor will recommend whether the organisation should receive R2 certification.
- Post Certification Follow-Up - R2-certified organisations are subject to a recertification audit every three years. Periodic (i.e., semi-annual or annual) surveillance audits are also conducted to assess ongoing compliance, or to check on responses to non-compliance issues identified in previous audits.
R2:2013 became effective July 1, 2013, and R2-accredited certification bodies may not issue certifications to the requirements of R2:2008 after January 1, 2014. Organisations seeking certification for the first time should work with a certification body that has been accredited to conduct audits in accordance with the requirements of R2:2013.
Existing R2:2008 certifications will remain valid through June 2015. However, organisations seeking to renew an existing certification based on R2:2008 will need to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of R2:2013 before the end of the transition period.