ISRI at Your Service: R2/RIOS: A Certifiable Success

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September/October 2011

The combination of the R2 and RIOS standards gives electronics recyclers a road map to new levels of efficiency, credibility, and success.

By Scott Van Dorn

When ISRI sought a way to make its Recycling Industry Operating Standard™ the premier management-system standard for electronics recyclers, it found the perfect complement in the Responsible Recycling, or R2, standard. The combination of RIOS™, a management system standard for all types of recyclers, with the electronics-recycling-specific R2 standard was an ideal marriage. It joined compatible certification programs that each brought something unique to the table, creating a new entity—R2/RIOS™—that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Here’s a look at how this relationship came about, how it benefits electronics recycling companies, and what’s ahead for this joint program.

A Winning Combination

ISRI created RIOS to help recyclers of all scrap materials implement a management system to control the quality, environmental impact, and health and safety of their operations. RIOS, which became an accredited standard in 2009, provides a variety of tools that recycling companies adapt to their particular operations. In the process, they standardize and improve their QEH&S performance. Companies that successfully implement RIOS then undergo a third-party audit to achieve certification.

Efforts to create R2—short for Responsible Recycling Practices for Use in Accredited Certification Programs for Electronics Recyclers—began in 2006, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Washington, D.C.) convened a group of stakeholders, including ISRI, to create a set of industry best practices that certifying bodies could use to assess electronics recyclers’ EH&S efforts, including their handling of R2-defined “focus materials” such as mercury, batteries, and leaded glass, and their data security practices. The R2 standard, itself accredited in 2009, requires electronics recyclers to ensure that downstream vendors manage safely and responsibly any material streams from used and end-of-life electronics that contain focus materials. It also prohibits electronics recyclers and their downstream vendors from exporting scrap that contains focus materials to countries that prohibit such activity.

ISRI saw the opportunity to combine the RIOS and R2 standards to yield a unique management system for electronics recyclers during its acquisition of the International Association of Electronics Recyclers in 2007-2008. IAER had created the registered trademark Certified Electronics Recycler in 2000 for companies that became certified to its electronics standard. As part of the acquisition agreement with IAER, ISRI agreed to transition IAER-certified companies into ISRI’s Certified Electronics Recycler® program, which combined the RIOS program with the R2 practices. ISRI officially introduced the R2/RIOS program in 2009, designating any company that achieves the combined R2/RIOS standard as a Certified Electronics Recycler.

The combined standards help electronics recycling companies enhance their management of QEH&S while maximizing their efficiency and ensuring their compliance with laws, regulations, and best practices as defined in the R2 standard. “Electronics recyclers that pursue R2/RIOS certification are supported by the RIOS program,” says David Wagger, ISRI’s director of environmental management and RIOS program manager. “We cover integrating R2 and RIOS in our RIOS Implementation Guide and in our RIOS workshops to provide a clear road map to R2/RIOS certification.”

The combined R2/RIOS standard gives the electronics recycling industry a comprehensive guide on how to operate, says Eric Harris, ISRI’s associate counsel and director of government and international affairs, and the association’s principal liaison on electronics recycling issues. “As any industry starts to mature, it goes through growing pains, which means some companies may not operate in the best possible way,” he says. “There were a number of good electronics recycling firms that wanted a way to distinguish themselves in the marketplace above their competitors.”

Understanding the Process

To become R2/RIOS certified, a company must meet the requirements outlined in each standard, with work on one complementing work on the other.

To pursue RIOS certification, a company first must become a RIOS member and enroll at least one of its facilities in the RIOS program. ISRI members receive a significant discount on RIOS membership fees. After paying a one-time materials fee of $2,000 for its first enrolled facility (and $1,500 for each additional facility) and an initial maintenance fee of $975 per enrolled facility, a company receives a licensed copy of RIOS, the RIOS Implentation Guide, internal auditor training materials, and other resources for each enrolled facility.

The standard presents its basic elements in six sections: general requirements, policy, planning, implementation, checking and corrective action, and management review. It provides the basic tools, templates, and guides companies need to implement a management system. Documenting procedures is a huge part of what RIOS requires, and it’s the area in which companies likely will find opportunities for improvement. The RIOS Implementation Guide provides more than 100 editable tools and templates to assist with the analysis of a facility’s activities and formation of new policy and procedure documents. The implementation guide saves recycling companies hundreds of hours of work and is one of the RIOS program’s chief benefits, Wagger says. It’s up to each RIOS member company to apply the tools to its operations, establish the internal processes and procedures, and monitor performance. The RIOS process then steadily refines a company’s QEH&S activities to the point where continuous improvement is second nature. After the first year, RIOS member companies pay an annual maintenance fee of $975 per enrolled facility.

Companies pursuing R2/RIOS certification also must meet the separate requirements of the R2 standard, which addresses 13 aspects of an electronics recycler’s operational, safety, and environmental performance. Those include tracking material throughput and storage, facility security, insurance, transportation, and recordkeeping.

The R2/RIOS process culminates in an accredited certifying body conducting an audit of the recycling company’s compliance with the standards. The certifying body usually conducts the R2 and RIOS audits at the same time, though sometimes the audits are done separately. Companies that pass the audit receive R2 and RIOS certificates from the certifying body and earn the Certified Electronics Recycler designation from ISRI. Certification to both standards is good for three years, with shorter surveillance audits conducted annually.

Reaping the Rewards

Though R2 and RIOS are only a few years old, they have gained quick favor—separately and together—among electronics recyclers for several reasons. Other management system standards—such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001—don’t focus specifically on the recycling industry, and they address quality, environmental compliance, and health and safety individually, requiring companies to invest more time and money to pursue certification to each of those standards separately. That can be especially daunting to smaller electronics recycling companies that might lack the staff and financial resources to take on multiple certification programs.

For E-World Recyclers (Vista, Calif.), pursuing certification to ISO and other general standards “was such a daunting task, and [it was] not in our budget at the time,” explains Cindy Erie, the company’s president. “We felt convinced RIOS would offer a nice package option that included elements of other standards. For us, R2/RIOS was a perfect combination.” Similarly, Lane Epperson, president of HiTech Assets (Oklahoma City), was planning on using other standards until R2/RIOS came along. “It was a clear and fully integrated program that we could do all in one audit,” he says. “It was a beautiful package for us.” (For companies that wish to pursue other certifications as well, R2/RIOS provides a head start and solid foundation, especially if they can align the audits for the different programs on the same schedule, Wagger notes.)

Many R2/RIOS participants—large and small—confirm that the program helped them get a better handle on their internal processes and procedures. Erie says the program’s requirement of documented procedures significantly improved E-World’s communications and its recordkeeping of its communications. “Now we don’t have forms being changed arbitrarily or by mistake,” she says.

Even electronics recycling companies that had achieved certification to other standards say R2/RIOS yielded unexpected, positive results for them. “There are a number of electronic recyclers that had other certifications and still did R2/RIOS,” Wagger says. “What they found was the RIOS Implementation Guide had a number of tools and templates that they didn’t have.” HiTech, for example, already had a program of continuous improvement that included an active health and safety program. According to Epperson, R2/RIOS still offered new ideas, such as more efficient customer satisfaction tracking. “You learn things about your company,” he says. “You end up saying things like, ‘Wow, why weren’t we doing that before?’”

The most apparent benefits of R2/RIOS are in the marketplace, however. Michael Profit, president of Intechra (Ridgeland, Miss.), says his firm’s R2/RIOS certification enhanced its credibility. “We believe merging these two standards together—with the Certified Electronics Recycler tag as a result—demonstrated to our current and prospective clients that we had not just a slot project around R2, but that these practices are integral to our entire business operation.”

Epperson maintains that certification gave his company a “stamp of approval” and “cemented relationships” with customers. For example, he credits HiTech’s R2/RIOS-strengthened document control for increasing trust and accountability, both internally and externally. “We always had good communication with our customers,” he says, “but we didn’t have a set way in our policies and procedures to document it and get feedback that we could gather as data and look at to improve our company and give it focus.” Profit shares this sentiment, even noticing that other companies would tighten their own procedures when they knew Intechra “was going to be vigilant in pursuing that level of documentation in support of the claims we were making.”

The Certified Electronics Recycler designation is a big benefit of the R2/RIOS program, recyclers say. “As this market emerges and matures,” ISRI’s Harris explains, “electronics recyclers are looking for opportunities to demonstrate that they are committed to assuring their customers the highest quality of materials being processed, and that they have the capacity and the environmental controls in place to manage some of the challenging materials.” R2/RIOS allows recyclers to show “they are making an investment where they actually get certified by an independent auditing system that then will elevate them in the marketplace.” In the process, such companies make themselves “more competitive and more attractive in the market—and by doing so they can increase their revenues,” Harris says.

R2/RIOS certification also helps generators of electronic scrap determine which electronics recycling companies truly can substantiate their handling claims, Profit says. “It differentiates companies that invest the time, money, and training to establish those processes and go through the scrutiny of a third-party audit from companies that aren’t willing to make that kind of investment,” he says.

R2/RIOS certification even has allowed some companies to compete at new levels. “It has opened doors for us to be considered by companies that possibly wouldn’t have looked at us beforehand,” Erie says. “Now we’re in the ‘network’ of companies that have subscribed to this program and obtained certification.” (See “Making the R2/RIOS Grade” on page 142 for a list of R2/RIOS-certified companies.)

Believing in Best Practices

Just as R2/RIOS gives electronics recyclers a system for continuous improvement, the program itself is continually modified based on user feedback. The next version likely will include changes to the RIOS Implementation Guide’s language to reduce the chance for misinterpretation, Wagger says. After the RIOS board approves the next version of RIOS, he notes, companies will have approximately a year to adjust their systems before their next audit to meet the new requirements.

Profit believes such continuous improvements are necessary to keep up with changing markets and competitors. “I think the work that’s being done in evolving the standard will continue to hold companies to a higher and higher standard,” he says.

Profit, Epperson, and Erie all expect R2/RIOS to be an integral part of their success as they move forward and as the standard gains more popularity. “We just want to improve upon our business and remain a leader in our industry,” Erie says. “We didn’t hesitate to do this because we plan on being around for a long time.”

Intechra plans to “refer back to these standards as a guidepost as we look at opportunities to expand our business,” Profit says. The R2/RIOS practices are “part of the core of how we manage the company, not just an initiative.” Going forward, R2/RIOS will be a “significant part of how we define ourselves,” Epperson says. “We want it to mean something, and by we, I don’t just mean my company, but all of us at ISRI and in the global electronics recycling industry that believe in best practices.”

Scott Van Dorn is an editorial intern and contributing writer for Scrap. For more information on the RIOS, R2/RIOS, and R2 standards, visit www.isri.org/rios, www.certifiedelectronicsrecycler.com, and www.r2solutions.org.

Making the R2/RIOS Grade

As of Sept. 1, 16 electronics recycling companies had achieved R2/RIOS certification for 41 facilities in the United States, Mexico, and England, allowing each of them to use the designation Certified Electronics Recycler®. Here are the companies, with their certified facilities noted in parentheses.

AERC/Com-Cycle (Hayward, Calif.; Melbourne, Fla.; Houston; Ashland, Va.)

Creative Recycling Systems (Tampa, Fla.; Morrisville, N.C.)

E-World Recyclers (Vista, Calif.)

Fortune Plastic & Metal Mountain States (Denver)

HiTech Assets (Oklahoma City)

Intechra (Windsor, Conn.; Reno, Nev.; Gahanna, Ohio; Carrollton, Texas)

Intercon Solutions (Chicago Heights, Ill.)

LifeSpan Technology Recycling (El Cajon, Calif.; Denver; Omaha, Neb.)

Maven Technologies (Rochester, N.Y.)

Regency Technologies (Lakeland, Fla.; Atlanta; Chicago; Solon, Ohio; Twinsburg, Ohio)

Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery (Victor, N.Y.)

Supply-Chain Services (Lombard, Ill.)

Synergy Recycling (Madison, N.C.)

Technology Conservation Group (Great Bridge, England; Lecanto, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.;
Apodaca, Mexico; Tlaquepaque, Mexico; Portland, Ore.)

TechTurn (Austin, Texas; Ashland, Va.)

WM Recycle America/eCycling Services (Mira Loma, Calif.; Springfield, Mass.; Minneapolis; Oklahoma City; Tigard, Ore.; Round Rock, Texas; Milwaukee)

The combination of the R2 and RIOS standards gives electronics recyclers a road map to new levels of efficiency, credibility, and success.
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