How to choose a recycling vendor

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Choosing a recycling vendor to work with is a very important task. New Free Geeks (or anyone wanting to recycle electronics) must take great caution as the electronics recycling industry is plagued with unethical businesses. Keep this thought in the back of your head at all times:

"Do not trust recyclers"

Historically we can see that all recycling industries have proven to be quick money grabs, often unchecked by government bodies until things are too out of hand. Also it is important to understand that most recyclers are just brokers of waste - they do not actually do any recycling - they ride on power of the word "recycler".

There are some methods which can help people choose a recycler or broker who will at least do things in the best manner possible. This article will look at them.


A lot of people think they need to humble themselves before a recycler, or feel lucky that someone would actually take all this old broken stuff. Often someone representing Free Geek will be calling up a large corporate type company and it can be intimidating. One must remember that you are a customer, and one that could potential bring that vendor a lot of product and ultimately more money. You are in the drivers seat, make sure the vendor knows that from call one. Also remember that in time if a good working relationship grows, any for-profit vendor will want to use their work with a Free Geek to make themselves look better. Again, you are in the drivers seat. Be confident, know your facts, know the issues, don't back down or give up from a rough first call.

Attitude is important when it comes to asking the tough questions. Some recyclers will take offense and say things like "if you don't trust us go somewhere else", or "that information is a trade secret" or "why would I tell you that information, you'll just go to the people I sell to". Do not let these comments throw you off track, and they are tell tale signs of something fishy.


The Basel Action Network is a crucial source of information when it comes to picking recycling vendors. The first place any new or old Free Geek should look for recyclers is on their E-Steward list. It is still a good idea to call and grill these recyclers. Just because they are on the list doesn't mean we should trust them fully. BAN cannot keep tabs on them all the time. It is good practice to ask them all the tough questions too. Keep them on their toes.

Whats the BIG DEAL??

Ok so maybe you are thinking - "whoa this seems a bit heavy, it's recycling after all, it can't be that bad" Lets look at some issues here.

The Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in Basel, Switzerland on 22 March 1989. The Convention was initiated in response to numerous international scandals regarding hazardous waste trafficking that began to occur in the late 1980s. Yup, this has been happening for some time and still happens to this day despite laws and wide public knowledge of the issue.

The United States and Canada have fought very hard against the Basel Convention. In fact the USA is not even signatory to the Convention. To make matters worse the USA uses terms like "Materials of Concern" to mislead the public to the dangers of these materials. Most other countries refer to this material as "Hazardous Waste"; sounds a bit more serious doesn't it?

There is a common assumption made that recycling eliminates risk and harm. This of course is false, particularly when the recycling takes place off shore. Electronic waste contains many toxins that are not made known to the general public. Recycling always carries risks and produces toxic residues. Harm is never confined to a recycling facility. In developing countries cost externalization and harm occurs due to lack of enforcement, “safety nets” and downstream residual management as well. An excellent example of how we can be harmed by lack of awareness and/or export of ewaste is the study on the lead found in children's jewelery.

It is important to remember that not all materials are covered under the Basel Convention or the Basel Ban. The Convention covers specific chemical compounds that are considered hazardous waste. To simplify things you can say that items like CRT glass, circuit board, LCD screens(mercury) and batteries are covered under the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban. Items like steel, copper and plastic are not. So things like toner cartridges are not covered although arguments could be made as to why they should. This does not mean that the items not covered under the Basel Convention and Basel Ban are not hazardous or shouldn't be treated differently from the usual suspects.

The Tough Questions

Ok, so you have the phone book open to electronic recycling and you are ready to call. Lets go over some basic questions you should ask:

End of Life Recyclers

Questions for end of life recyclers

Extended questions for vendors with reuse/resale operations

Questions for recyclers with reuse operations

Ten signs you are dealing with an un-ethical recycler

  1. They ship overseas
  2. They cannot tell you who their downstream is
  3. They cannot provide documentation of final disposal
  4. The will not let you in their facility
  5. They pay for CRT monitors
  6. They have your ewaste picked up by 53' sea containers
  7. They tell you they refurbish CRT monitors
  8. The facility has no sign of processing material on site
  9. The company has changed names more than once
  10. They take offense to regular questions and requests for documents

Of course there are some exceptions to this, but generally these should raise red flags and cause a much more thorough investigation on your part.

Trading sites/Auctions

There are well know websites that are havens for ewaste exporters. Such sites like:


It is not a good idea to use these sites as a method of disposal due to the fluid nature of the people you would be dealing with. Stay far far away from clearing house/auction/liquidation type services or websites.