HP Challenges IT Industry: Clean Up Electronics Recycling

by Sarah Murry
Mar 9, 2017 9:05 AM ET

When U.S. consumers drop off their old electronics at local e-waste centers for recycling, most assume their aging gadgets will be safely dismantled and have their components either scrapped or re-used. But that’s not always the case, according to Basel Action Network (BAN), an environmental nonprofit.

Electronics recycling often involves a complex, multi-step supply chain. Many of the downstream operations are in the developing world, where waste is exported for treatment. Once it arrives for processing, oversight is often minimal.

According to BAN, this can lead to unsafe labor and environmental conditions having a devastating impact on the countries receiving electronics recyclables. The ostensibly well-intended act of recycling has the potential to harm workers, their communities and the environment. BAN suggests that greater transparency in electronics recycling supply chains is one way companies could help.

HP has long been committed to responsible processing of used electronics. Now HP is deepening that commitment by disclosing the names and locations of its recycling vendors.

See the full list here.

By bringing transparency to its electronics recycling supply chain, HP seeks to inspire other tech companies, retailers, and distributors to follow suit as well as to acknowledge the work of recycling partners to meet HP’s high expectations. This transparency also helps HP’s customers feel confident their end-of-life equipment is adequately treated to ensure data and privacy protection. 

“HP is disclosing its recycling partners to raise the bar for transparency in our industry and to highlight the high standards we set for those vendors,” said Annukka Dickens, HP Director of Human Rights and Supply Chain Responsibility. “We challenge other companies in and outside of the high tech industry to follow our lead and disclose recycler vendor standards and performance, as well as the list of recycling vendors they employ globally.”

Ties back to the circular economy

A key part of HP’s circular economy strategy is responsible recycling of used electronics, which encompasses industry-leading recycling and reuse standards, a robust recycler audit program, and close engagement with recycling partners.

HP is reducing resource consumption by reinventing product design to extend the life of our products, shifting to service models, and transforming how whole industries design, make, and distribute products through disruptive technologies, such as 3D printing.

The end-of-life electronics challenge

HP knows from experience that recycling responsibly is no small effort. The company is one of high tech’s most active recyclers, having recaptured and recycled more than 3.3 billion pounds of computer and printing hardware and 682 million ink and toner cartridges since 1987.

Through its HP Planet Partners program, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, HP offers takeback and recycling programs to keep used electronics and printing supplies out of landfills in more than 70 countries and territories. It also collaborates with governments and industry stakeholders to promote innovative solutions for managing electronics equipment at the end of its life cycle.

As part of the company’s stringent recycling vendor management process, HP requires every specialist vendor to execute environmentally-responsible processing techniques, comply with relevant government regulations, and achieve additional commitments like ethical labor practices and conformance to the Basel Convention, which limits shipment of non-functional electronics between countries.

In addition, vendors must attain third-party certification (such as e-Stewards, R2, or WEEELABEX), where applicable, and must also submit to regular audits.

Collaboration to ensure performance

In 2015, HP conducted audits at 58 facilities in 20 countries, including audits to follow-up on previous findings and confirm ongoing commitment to responsible practices and improved performance.

In extreme cases, vendors are not allowed to continue recycling on HP’s behalf if they do not work to address nonconformance identified during audits.

“People should know how and where their equipment is recycled. We encourage customers to ask questions about what really happens to the equipment they return,” Dickens said.

The complete list of partners, representing more than 95 percent of the used electrical and electronic equipment processed through the HP Planet Partners Program, can be viewed here.

HP’s vendor standards for hardware reuse and hardware recycling can be found here. For questions about HP’s list of recycling vendors, please contact HP at sustainability@hp.com.