California-based Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) has been one of Best Buy’s trusted recycling partners for nearly a decade. It handles millions of old products our customers bring in. We sat down with ERI Executive Chairman John Shegerian to get his thoughts on a service industry that didn’t exist just 15 years ago.
What is ERI’s partnership with Best Buy?
It’s a very simple program, one where people can bring used electronics into a Best Buy store and drop them off. The store then collects the material and ships it to one of our eight recycling facilities across the country.
How can Best Buy’s customers be certain the disposal process is safe and responsible?
We break down materials into their commodities with our shredders, equipment and manpower. None of it goes to a landfill. We’re a zero-landfill facility. Metals can be made into new fiber optics, cables and airplanes. And the plastics can be made into new electronics or other items. Everything gets reused.
The owners of the company, including me, go to our smelters around the world and audit these facilities. We make sure our partners are doing everything they say they’re doing. And third-party auditors document all the great things our vendors are doing from an environmental and human rights perspective.
What’s the current state of e-cycling?
On an average month, we recycle between 25 and 30 million pounds of electronics. This number is not good enough – we need more people recycling and more responsible recyclers. However, there is good news. As technology advances, devices are getting lighter and smaller, which leaves less of a footprint. And as an industry, we’ve made strides to focus on the lifecycle of a product with services such as repair and trade in as options before recycling.
Is awareness where it needs to be?
When a big brand like Best Buy goes out front on an issue like this, and collects this material, it educates the public at large, but it’s still only a drop in the bucket. I’d like to see electronics recycling become second nature to consumers.
What has changed in the world of e-cycling over the last decade?
The biggest thing that’s changed is that a lot of small scrap-yards that weren’t doing it the right way have gone out of business. For big companies like ours, this is all we do. This is our expertise — same with our friendly competitors. The industry has gotten more professional.
The other thing that’s happened, in addition to things that have to be recycled for environmental purposes, is there’s now the data risk. Everything is a data-containing device, and people are more aware than ever of protecting their data and their company’s data. So part of the recycling process now means destroying the data on devices and doing it in a responsible way.
What are the consequences if you throw your electronics in the garbage?
From a legal standpoint, that depends on where you live. Unfortunately, in some ZIP codes in this country, there are no consequences. In other places, it’s illegal.
But it’s bad for the environment, wherever you live. In addition, when electronics are thrown into a landfill, their materials cannot be re-used and made into new products.
What are the key things people need to know when they’re going to recycle electronics?
First, delete your data. Then make sure you’re bringing your old electronics to a responsible recycler, like Best Buy.
How do you feel about the future of e-cycling?
I’m very optimistic overall. If you watch the news on a regular basis, it’s easy to get down about what’s happening to this planet. But we’re making strides every day around the world.
How did you get involved in this work?
In 2002, I was asked to join the company, which had a different name at the time, and reformulate it, re-brand it, and make it something bigger. We rebranded the company to ERI, moved it to Fresno and rebuilt it, brick by brick. Our first month we recycled 10,000 pounds of electronic waste. Last month we recycled about 30 million pounds. So we get to do good for the environment and do well for our clients, as well. It feels good every day.