As recyclers we have been dealing with electronics for a long time now. Some of you may remember Digital’s electronics recycling facility here in Contoocook, NH, which is where we cut our teeth, Dana working with the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, ML with the State of NH. The name “Digital” all by itself tells you how long we’ve been at this.

It still amazes us, after all these years, that some folks, some of our buddies, some really good recyclers, still think there’s some sort of magic bullet in electronics recycling. A “free” magic bullet. It’s been two years since GAO’s report KO’ed a whole bunch of lousy electronics recyclers. But here in 2010, right here in Massachusetts, there’s another round of operators pushing “free” electronics recycling, and there are folks who are taking the bait. This inspired ML to write the following:

Of Locusts and Electronics

It’s like locusts. They go underground. They seem to disappear. Then they come back. “They” is crappy electronics recyclers. They show up and they tell you things like this: “We recycle to the highest environmental standards.” Or this: “We are an EPA-approved recycler.” Or this: “Our recycling process protects the environment.” Then they tell you something like this: “At no cost.” Or: “For free.” Or: “We will pay for your used electronics.” Then they get your business and they recycle – or “recycle” – for a few months or a couple of years. Then they go away. They always go away.

They go away for a really simple reason: There is no such thing as “to the highest environmental standards” and “for free.” There’s no such thing as “Our recycling protects the environment” and “we’ll pay you.” Eventually people figure that out, and the recyclers, the “recyclers”, go away.

Like locusts. They show up. They blight the landscape for a while. They wear out their welcome. They go away.

One thing about these locusts, though. You have to invite them in your door. If you don’t invite them in, they can’t come in. You can keep them out. What’s weird is that so many people invite them in. Weird but understandable. “Free” is a pretty tempting number. It’s especially tempting if you’ve got a budget to meet and it’s a budget that’s getting sliced every year.

If one of these outfits calls you and you like the idea of “free” but care about “environmental standards”, here’s what you can do. Here’s what you really must do, because if it turns out they’re a locust and you let them into your electronics, that can be really bad for things like liability and publicity and job security.

Get in your car and go visit their place. Heck, if they’re “free” they’re saving you a bunch of money, right, so you can afford a little time to go check them out. Go check out their “high environmental standards”. If they really have high environmental standards, and not “high environmental standards” you should take the “free” and you should tell every single one of your friends to do the same thing. And you should buy the company, because that company is worth billions of dollars.

A lot of really smart people have tried to put “free” together with “high environmental standards” in electronics recycling for a lot of years. It just doesn’t work. There just isn’t enough value in the materials. If you an electronics recycler and you have high environmental standards you’re not free. If you’re free you don’t have high environmental standards. It’s as simple as that.

Which is why the locusts always disappear.

So if one of these folks knocks on your door, GO CHECK THEM OUT! It’s a really simple way to save yourself a whole lot of hurt.

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