Understanding R2 Certification Standards and How They Affect Electronics Recycling

A woman using an electronic screwdriver on a computer circuitboard.

While electronics recycling is good for the planet overall, the process can create dangerous environmental pollutants. The industry has created a protocol called the R2 Standard, laying out the proper procedures for recycling electronics and protecting both the environment and worker health and safety.

R2 Recycling uses R2 certified partners. These partners provide safe and effective disposal of potentially hazardous materials. Working according to the R2 Standard, their industry partners are able to efficiently take care of the byproducts of electronics recycling.

The R2 Standard

The R2 Standard was developed by SERI or Sustainable Electronics Recycling International. SERI is an organization focused on the environmental and economic impacts of electronics recycling. The standard allows for a common set of safety measures, documentation requirements, and processes for business repairing or recycling used electronics. Over 800 facilities in 31 countries are currently certified for this standard.

Here are the 10 steps toward receiving R2 certification:

1. Scope

In order to be certified, companies must have their operations audited for safety and efficiency. In addition, any company sharing space with a certified company must be audited if their activities relate to electronics recycling or the resale of recycled materials.

2. Hierarchy of Responsible Management Strategies

The certified order of priority for management follows the steps of reusing, recovering materials, and disposing of the materials. Before products are recycled, there should be an effort to reuse the product. Only if the product cannot be reused should it be recycled.

R2 takes a full life-cycle approach to recycling products and their components. Ideally, reused electronics should be sold or donated to underprivileged communities or developing countries, helping to bridge the digital divide.

Existing electronic devices can be reused in their complete firm, but they can also be broken down into parts. For example, a certified facility in Hong Kong takes the screens from discarded smartphones and uses them to make electronic toys.

When items have no further potential for reuse, materials recovery must be completed. This recovery can be undertaken by the certified company or a downstream vendor.

Methods used in the disposal of waste products include energy recovery, incineration, and transporting the materials to a landfill.

3. EH&S Management System

The Environmental Health & Safety Management System requires that companies adhere to the ISO 14001 environmental standard and the ISO 45001 health and safety standard. Alternatively, they should adhere to the Recycling Industry Operating Standard. All of these certifications are important for protecting the environment as well as worker safety.

4. Legal and Other Requirements

The compliance plan should also meet other legal requirements. Child labor and forced labor are prohibited. Prison labor is permitted, but it must be voluntary, compensated, and create marketable skills that the prisoner can use after their release.

The standard requires that companies have proof of legality for all international shipments. Not all countries allow the inbound shipment of electronics recycling components and byproducts.

5. Tracking Throughput

All materials coming in and out of a R2 certified facility must be tracked. Supporting documentation must be kept. Inventory levels also need to be tracked to prove that they are below the legal limit. Also, negative value items must only be kept for one year. Negative value items are those that bear a cost associated with their recycling, such as CRT monitors and televisions.

6. Sorting, Categorization, and Processing

The standard covers how materials must be sorted, categorized, and processed. It is preferred that companies use a standard set of categories for items that have been recycled. These categories are known as the REC. However, companies are allowed to create their own categories as long as these are documented.

In the REC, processing categories and functioning product categories are separated. The processing categories include R2 controlled streams and unrestricted streams that are outside the scope of R2. The second category is data sanitization standards.

Functioning product categories include the physical condition of items that are destined for reuse and the level of functionality of each working product.

7. Data Security

Facilities must develop data sanitization plans for each type of equipment that holds data. Facilities need to draw up a process for destroying data on applicable electronic equipment, whether it is completed at the R2 certified facility or at a downstream vendor.

Companies must assign a data protection representative who is responsible for the process. This person may also have other responsibilities in the organization, especially in a small company.

Physical security of the facility is necessary in order to comply with R2 standards. Security cameras, security personnel, and alarm systems are included.

Suppliers must also be notified that they are receiving equipment that may contain data.

8. Focus Materials

Focus materials must be managed onsite or at downstream facilities. These materials include those which have special health, safety, or environmental concerns. Circuit boards, mercury, batteries, CRT glass, and PCBs (polychlorinated bi-phenyls) are included.

Certified companies need to have focus materials management plans including the expertise, capabilities, methods, and capacity needed to process these materials.

There must also be a flowchart that details the downstream recycling chain until final disposition. Final disposition means that the material is broken down to the point where it does not need to be processed anymore.

9. Facility Requirements

Processes need to be completed indoors. The area must be protected from weather, legally compliant, and secured. Facilities must evaluate their risk and carry the appropriate types of insurance.

Facilities need to develop a closure plan that details how the facility can be returned to a lease- or sale-ready state, cleaning up all potentially hazardous materials and residues.

10. Transport

Items must be packed appropriately for transport, considering their intended use and any health and safety risks that are connected to exposure to these items.

Working with Certified Partners

R2 Recycling works with certified partners to take care of its waste products. By doing so, they can ensure that the health and safety of their workers are protected, as well as the environment. R2 certification is key when creating a recycling process that works for all members of the community.