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Go, Go Gadgets
Protect the planet — and give your spa equipment new life — through e-waste recycling.
When President Obama set up an e-waste task force last November, it was in response to a growing problem that’s long concerned environmentalists: the hazards of disposing anything that plugs into the wall or uses batteries.
According to the EPA, e-waste is just another term for select consumer electronics that are no longer used and will be given away for reuse, recycling or landfilling. For spas, this umbrella can encompass end-of-life facial equipment, massage chairs, towel warmers, hot tubs and credit card machines, not to mention computers, printers, fax machines, TVs, sound systems, remote controls, light bulbs, phones and much more.
Currently, the United States generates 3 million tons of e-waste annually, and only 15% is recycled. Although e-waste comprises almost 2% of the municipal solid waste system, it mustn’t be treated like regular garbage because the lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury found in many electronics can pose serious risks to human and environmental health by adversely affecting food supplies, increasing lead levels in fish, and even causing birth defects and cancer.
“Electronics shouldn’t end up in landfills or incinerators, or get sent to prison recycling operations or developing countries—which commonly occurs,” says Sarah Westervelt, e-Stewardship project coordinator of the Basel Action Network (BAN), a Seattle-based environmental watchdog group. “Leaching toxic chemicals over the years can poison whole communities.” And yet, despite the burgeoning problem, e-waste is still a relatively new waste stream. “There aren’t many resources in place to deal with it,” Westervelt says. Which is why proper e-waste recycling requires business owners to conduct thorough preliminary research.
What You Can Do
Ready to recycle your facility’s electronics more responsibly? Follow these environmental expert–approved guidelines to ensure you ask the right questions and work with the best recycling provider for your spa.
① Look for a recycling program that is third-party certified.
Jennifer Berry, social media editor of environmental news source Earth911.com, advises using services accredited by an EPA-approved certification program. BAN has developed an e-Stewards program that requires certified recyclers to follow a strict code of practices detailed in its 50-page manual. Another common certification program, R2, has less stringent requirements but is also accepted by the EPA. Berry adds that paid services aren’t necessarily better, but that it’s crucial to ask the right questions to ensure your recycling initiatives are worthwhile.
② Find out how much of what you give will actually be recycled.
Berry urges spa owners to use a recycling service that divulges which components of your electronics it’s equipped to recycle. Earth911.com lists comprehensive information about recyclers in all 50 states. You should also inquire about their procedures for disposing of the mercury present in all computers, cell phones and lamps. “It can’t really be recycled, but it should be burned in a way that minimizes the release of harmful chemicals into the air,” Berry says.
③ Find out exactly how your recycling provider breaks down electronic products.
Is it “demanufacturing?” “This is the dismantling of electronic equipment to reclaim and reuse scrap materials and other components,” says Brian Brundage, CEO of Intercon Solutions, an e-cycling company in Chicago Heights, Illinois. “It reduces the toxicity of the waste and ensures proper disposal. The raw materials are often ultimately reused to manufacture metals, plastics and glass.”
④ Ask where the provider will take your former equipment to be broken down.
If it’s going to a recycling plant overseas, this is a bright red flag. “Some unscrupulous ‘recyclers’ dispose of waste in developing countries, such as India or China, that have no regulations for proper disposal,” warns Suzanne Rudzinski, the EPA’s director of resource conservation and recovery. “There, workers participate in ‘urban mining’—scavenging valuable materials from the electronics, such as copper, steel or gold found in circuit boards—and then dumping the remainder or burning it over open fires, releasing harmful chemicals into the water and air.”
⑤ Determine how to transport your electronics to e-cycling centers.
Can your recycler pick up your old electronics, or do you need to send them? “Some manufacturers offer take-back programs—usually large companies such as Home Depot, Dell, Apple and HP,” says Westervelt. Check with your device’s manufacturer before contacting an outside recycler. You may also be able to find local public collection events. When Roxanne Zbinden, owner of Cielo Spa Boutique in Santa Barbara, California, learned her community center was holding an electronics recycling drive, she not only loaded up her unused devices, but also blogged about the event on her spa’s site to get her guests more involved. “I find today’s clients really support businesses that recycle,” she says.
⑥ Consider spa-specific recyclables.
You may wish to recycle some equipment that doesn’t fit into typical e-waste classifications; for example, microcurrent devices and Jacuzzis. “These don’t fit under the category of ‘consumer electronics,’ so they may not be as easily recycled as computers or phones,” Rudzinski says. “Spa owners should ask specific questions of their waste handler to learn their options; contact the manufacturer of the machinery to see if it offers take-back programs or recycling services; contact refurbishers to see if they’ll help update or recycle the equipment; or donate machinery to nonprofit organizations such as Salvation Army, Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity.” (See Rewards of Reuse sidebar.)
⑦ Purge your old devices of all information.
As a spa owner, it’s your responsibility to ensure that client contact lists, credit card information and trade secrets stay protected, so make sure that before you send away your equipment, it’s been wiped clean of any such information. Intercon Solutions’ Brundage also suggests spa owners ask the recycler what guarantees are made as far as data protection.
⑧ Make it a news story!
Once you’ve recycled your old devices properly, Brundage urges spa owners to publicize it. Intercon Solutions provides a statement of how many gallons of oil or acres of trees were saved per amount of e-waste individual clients submitted for recycling. “Many of our customers,” Brundage notes, “have gained positive press from using these numbers to help spread the word about their recycling initiatives."
Rewards of Reuse
Give your things new life under someone else’s care.
Before you assume you need to recycle your old spa equipment, look for ways to repurpose or find new homes for it. When spa owner Zbinden decided to upgrade her facial steamer, she contacted an area cosmetology academy, looking to put her old-but-still-working model in use, and students quickly inundated her with calls. “Donate to local schools; if it’s a big-ticket item, you can even look into getting a tax credit for your donation,” she advises. Berry agrees that it’s worthwhile to look into repurposing alternatives if your electronics are still in decent shape. “Donate to someone else, or sell the item on Craigslist,” she says. “Also, check sites such as ecosquid.com or gazelle.com, which let you type in a model number to find out what your equipment’s worth.”
Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, Mississippi.