Willy Street Co-op is a leader in environmental sustainability, but most people may not know how deep this commitment goes. Our Owners can rest assured that our principles extend to every computer monitor, keyboard and mouse that we purchase.
Let’s face it—computer technology is an integral part of Willy Street Co-op, as it is in nearly all retail businesses. Computers, servers, cash registers, telephones, printers, photocopiers, wireless access points—the list is quite long. As your Information Systems Manager, my responsibilities include procurement of computer and telecom equipment. Our IT Team demonstrates great diligence in purchasing equipment with the mission of the organization in mind; maintaining Willy Street Co-op as an “economically and environmentally sustainable” co-operative includes decisions about our technology infrastructure. For example, we have implemented over 50 workstations manufactured by a company certified as a “sustainable and responsible business” for EuPs (energy-using products). (Source: ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sustainable-business/ecodesign/index_en.htm).

Retiring equipment
However, in addition to the responsibility of sustainable practices in procurement, we have the dubious role of retiring equipment. All electronic waste (or ‘e-waste’) must be handled in accordance with our mission. There are few options available: donation, refurbishment, resale, or disposal. We have on occasion been able to refurbish and donate computer equipment to local non-profit charities such as Operation Fresh Start; I personally prefer this option whenever possible. Some equipment can be disassembled and parts stored for later use. However, some equipment must be “de-manufactured.”

All electronic equipment has a finite lifecycle. For example, the average lifecycle for a computer is two years before being considered ‘obsolete.’ Many businesses simply buy new equipment and throw the old equipment in the garbage. The statistics vary depending on the source, but generally only 13 to 15% of e-waste is disposed of or recycled properly. Consider that in the U.S. over 100 million cellphones, 20 million TVs, and 41.1 million computers (desktop and laptops) per year are thrown in the trash. E-waste represents two percent of America’s trash in landfills, but it represents 70 percent of overall toxic waste. E-waste can contain mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) – just to name a few of the potentially hazardous components. Then consider what happens when this equipment is incinerated, or when these chemicals leach into our aquifers!
Even if we believe that our e-waste is being handled properly, well, the truth is in many cases the problem is exacerbated by dishonest business practices. Take for example the toxic waste dumps found in developing countries such as Ghana, China, and India. Unprotected workers (including children) can be found dismantling computers for valuable metals (copper, silver, gold, palladium, etc.), and burning the rest. Greenpeace has exposed the shady side of the e-waste trade, and has been pressuring electronic companies to phase out toxic chemicals and introduce ‘global recycling schemes’ since at least 2005. Unfortunately, most manufacturers have been reluctant to respond. (Source: www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/poisoning-the-poor-electroni/)

This equipment also poses a security risk, as information can reside on hard drives and flash drives. Willy Street Co-op is responsible for adhering to strict data security standards since we process credit and debit transactions (See: pcisecuritystandards.org for more information). Secure data destruction is essential to protect our Owners and customers, as well as our staff and our data assets.

Responsible handling
Fortunately, there are businesses that responsibly handle e-waste. It is our responsibility (consumers, businesses, and manufacturers) to conduct due diligence and demand transparency from companies that tout their ability to handle retired equipment. Willy Street Co-op contracts with Cascade Asset Management (CAM) for this service (See: www.cascade-assets.com/environment.html). Cascade is certified through the International Environmental Management Standards (ISO), and the e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment ® (Source: e-stewards.org/).

Being an e-Steward means that your recycling plan:

  • Has support of the EPA.
  • Bans the export of toxic e-waste to developing countries.
  • Keeps toxics out of landfills and incinerators.
  • Requires accountability for toxics through final processing.
  • Disallows untested or non-working equipment to be exported for “refurbishment.”
  • Implements compliance with international laws and definitions.
  • Ensures worker protection through required air sampling of specific contaminants.
  • Prohibits the shredding of mercury-containing devices.
  • Prohibits the use of prisoners for e-waste recycling.
  • Provides independence from industry pressure to lower standards.
  • Provides independent certification by accredited certifying bodies.

…and the list goes on.

I have personally toured their facilities, and witnessed their means for grinding hard drives into metallic dust, refurbishing equipment, and their facility security measures to name a few facets of their operations. Willy Street Co-op has been working with Cascade for over three years, and in that time we have recycled all of our old point-of-sale (POS) equipment, many computers and servers, old CRT monitors, legacy PDAs (for ordering product), telephones, cellphones, printers – all of it was either refurbished/resold by Cascade, or recycled responsibly so that less that 1% of the waste ended up in landfills. In the case where equipment is resold, we are issued a credit that we use toward the next recycling run through Cascade.

In summary, the mission of Willy Street Co-op regarding environmental sustainability goes beyond our product shelves, and goes down to the administrative department level. I am proud to continue serving the needs of our Owners, our staff, and our community by responsibly handling the electronic waste generated through the natural course of running a vibrant local business.

For more information on local organizations that accept and responsibly handle e-waste, see www.countyofdane.com/pwht/recycle/computers.aspx.