NPC 3/15/13 Feautured Presentation: Jim Lynch on Humanitarian Electronics Recycling and Refurbishment

Below is an edited transcript of the 3/15/13 NonProfit Commons in Second Life meeting, featuring Jim Lynch.

Today for our featured presentation we have Jim Lynch, Director of GreenTech for TechSoup Global.

Bio: Jim Lynch, Director of GreenTech, TechSoup Global 

Over his long career at TechSoup Global, Jim Lynch has been involved in creating all of TechSoup’s environmental programs. Mr. Lynch leads TechSoup Global’s work to develop the computer refurbishment and reuse field in the United States and internationally. He has provided testimony on the humanitarian portion of the field to the U.S International Trade Commission. He has also participated in the creation and refinement of standards for the U.S. electronics recycling industry.


Mr. Lynch also directs TechSoup’s GreenTech program, which promotes technology and practices that reduce the IT environmental impact and carbon footprint of nonprofits, NGOs, and libraries worldwide.


Jim Lynch designed, in cooperation with Microsoft, the Community Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher Program for the Americas, which distributes low-cost Windows and Office software to recyclers and refurbishers. In 2005 he also started TechSoup’s Refurbished Computer Initiative, which supplies low-cost warrantied refurbished computers to U.S. nonprofits and libraries. His interest in computer recycling and nonprofit social enterprise began when he created and ran homeless education programs and computer training labs in the 1980s


Jim Lynch has been interviewed extensively over the years on computer recycling and related issues by the Wall St. Journal, National Public Radio, PC World Magazine, and many other news outlets.

You can start when you are ready Jim


          Glitteractica Cookie: And he’s been at TechSOup longer than I have! How long, Jimmy?


originaljimlynchHappy Ides of March everyone! I’m originalJimlynch (Jim Lynch in the straight boring world), and this is my 1st time on 2nd Life. I’m TechSoup’s Green IT guy.


Let’s see I’ve been toiling away at Techsoup lo these 17 years


First off let me apologize for this presentation. It’s the one I presented (verbatim) to members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on February 13th this year. The briefing was called “Turning E-Waste into Green (as in cash)”. It turned out that this was a briefing mostly for new members of the committee to get them up to speed in this environmental issue


The policy folks from the American Chemical Society invited me to present to Congress on “U.S. E-Waste Environmental Policy”. The American Chemical Society is a big trade association for chemists and chemical companies. They asked me to the dance because TechSoup has been a staunch advocate for electronics recycling and especially reputable refurbishment and reuse for 10 years now. It’s the grand missionary passion of my life.


Slide 2

You all probably know all about TechSoup Global’s mission to do whatever we can to provide the IT resources and knowledge that charities, NGOs, and libraries need. It’d be silly to reiterate that! What’s far less known is that we’ve long had an environmental mission to reclaim a bunch of the electronics out there that are getting wasted in our throw-away societies. The UN estimates that less than 10% of the world’s discarded computers and mobile phones are getting recycled in any way.


          Jimbo Welles: (great school project would be a consistent collection of these items)


originaljimlynchGreat idea, Jimbo. Lots of schools do stuff around this type of recycling


It’s actually not our first time advocating for charities and libraries in high places like the U.S. Congress. Our Susan Tenby testified a few years ago on behalf of 2nd Life. When I got the invitation I decided to go for it – to make an appeal for “humanitarian electronics recycling and refurbishment.” Perhaps I should explain.


Slide 3

This is just the list of the stuff I covered in the 10 minute presentation


Slide 4

Don’t you hate it when people just read thru a presentation?

“Discarded electronics devices are one of the fastest growing parts of the solid waste stream.” 


“About 27% of discarded electronics are recycled nationwide”


          Komi Silverfall: why are such a low amount of electronics being recycled? Can’t they be reused?


originaljimlynch: Ah, reuse. We’ll get to that…


Our 27% recycling rate is up 9 percentage points from 2008, so at least in the U.S. we’re making some progress. Any idea which country has the highest recycling rate?


South Korea (85%) followed closely by Japan and Taiwan (both at 75%)


          Gentle Heron re-asks Komi’s question: Why is the US so lagging in recycling electronics?


originaljimlynch: Any idea of the lowest?


          Komi Silverfall: Africa

          Jen (jenelle.levenque): UK

          Jimbo Welles: its a space issue- USA has lots of space for landfills

          Panny (panny.bakerly): Money?


originaljimlynchA large share of the world is down around 1% – all of Africa and much of Latin America and Asia.


Why is the US lagging places like Korea? 


Slide 5

This summary of what U.S. electronics recycling policy is composed of was the hardest part of this to boil down


The patchwork of 25 state laws – is obviously half the country, but it’s the big populous states. The problem is that all the state laws are different. Most state laws use the ‘Extended Producer Responsibility’ model


I think you’ll see in all this that the policy stuff is kind of a mess and Congressional gridlock is basically why we don’t have a unified collection system like Japan and Europe.


          Jimbo Welles: “the USA right to pollute” also- and to buy, use, throw away

          Komi Silverfall: November 15 was America Recycles Day, and a great reminder about how important recycling is not only for the environment, but for jobs and the economy as well.

          Jimbo Welles: yes


originaljimlynchThe jobs thing – that was mainly what the folks in Congress wanted to hear about


Marching on: The 2011 National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship – this is an Obama administration policy to push on the recycling industry to adopt environmental standards voluntarily and for the Federal government to buy energy efficient IT equipment, and encourage better designed electronic devices that are easily repaired and easier to recycle (called demanufacturing)


The Federal Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Electronics Challenge – this is the latest US EPA initiative aimed at original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and retailers to use certified recyclers. OEMs are on the hook in most states with laws to cover the takeback costs of recycling. The government doesn’t want them to take shortcuts by using cheap or disreputable recyclers


The R2 (Responsible Recycling) and E-Stewards certification programs – These are dueling recycling standards. R2 is the EPA initiated and largely industry-oriented stakeholder one that is now led by the industry trade association called ISRI. E-Stewards is the environmentalist led standard that prohibits exports of e-waste to most of the world. It is led by the environmentalist organization, Basel Action Network (BAN) in Seattle. Both standards are recognized by the Obama administration as being reputable.


Innumerable local, state, and federal environmental regulations – these are mostly landfill bans – the precursor to recycling laws. It turns out that municipalities are left with most of the costs to dispose of or to recycle all types of stuff that is thrown away, and that money comes from garbage collection, landfill and ‘tipping fees’.


The upshot of all this: There is no Federal law regulating electronics disposal and material recovery.


The latest effort was the 2011 Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (HR 2284 / S1270) – this bill failed in the last Congress. It will probably be reintroduced, but has little chance of getting to a floor vote in the Republican led House. It is mainly the policy position of the E-Stewards oriented environmentalists.


          Jimbo Welles: could a municipality actually make money collecting recycleable tech?

          Gentle Heron: Jimbo, the better question is: Would the recycling income be more than the cost of running the recycling program, or less than the cost of trashing the stuff?


originaljimlynch: Jimbo great question – it’s a loss unless there’s a law that subsidizes it. A scrapped computer that is ground down in to metal plastic and glass is worth about $3


The better money is in repairing and reusing this stuff – way more


          Jimbo Welles: nods. show us how!

          Komi Silverfall: In the U.S., 40-50 percent of raw materials come from recycled scrap. And although businesses make up a large amount of scrap recycling in general, recycled precious metals come in large part from consumer electronics.

          Jimbo Welles: bingo

          Jimbo Welles: and the jobs stay HERE


originaljimlynch: Nice! I didn’t know that stat.


Here’s a bit more about how the money works in this field: Slide 6 General Industry Characteristics


1,500 end-of-life electronics recycling companies in the US (I call them shredders)


1,400 IT asset disposal and refurbishment companies – 30% are noncommercial (Microsoft Registered Refurbisher Program)


The industry has two sides:

  –  End-of-life processing – the largest company is Sims Recycling Solutions

  –  IT Asset Disposal and Refurbishment – the largest company is Arrow Electronics


Most of the larger electronics recycling companies and refurbishers are now certified under R2 or E-Stewards – mostly R2 by around a 3 to 1 ratio


Because of persistent press about foreign e-waste dumping, the industry is eager to be reputable


Here’s the jobs bit: Job Creation Potential. It is a relatively high wage industry. Electronics recycling and refurbishment jobs tend to stay in the country and are regarded as green jobs. In the U.S., repair and refurbishment of electronics can create 200 times as many jobs as landfilling.


          Jimbo Welles: can the costs be sustained by the income generation?  ie. can a company make money on it


originaljimlynch: Repair and refurbishment creates around 10 times more jobs than shredding which relies on big machines


Companies do make money. Shredders need big volume though. The bottleneck in all this is that we’re bad at doing collections, Less than 10% of discarded cell phones are collected here in the US


Here’s the NPC angle: Slide 7 – Humanitarian Electronics Recycling and Refurbishment is the sweet spot for us


The industry is also active in providing low-cost computers to U.S. low-income families, schools, libraries and job training centers – the largest is Connect2Compete, but there are hundreds of others.


The Goodwill-Dell Reconnect Program has around 2,600 collection locations. Twenty-three entire states now covered, and 17 partial states are covered. It is mainly a free collection program for consumer electronics and collects several million pounds of electronics per year. It essentially offers free R2 or E-Stewards processing. Each Goodwill collection program is able to divert a portion of its collection for reuse and resale.


The Microsoft Registered Refurbisher Program provides very low-cost Windows and Office licensing to encourage this digital inclusion work. TechSoup worked with MSFT to develop that program in the early roaring zeroes (early 2000s)


These guys are my big heroes: U.S. based nonprofit programs like Interconnection in Seattle and World Computer Exchange in Boston are showing the way toward responsible export to many developing countries, mainly to schools in Latin America and Africa. Schools there badly need and want good used IT equipment. There are plenty of cheap (mostly Chinese) cell phones in places like Africa, but schools and NGOs there really want affordable laptops.


We advocate for a national law that is like the one in Illinois. It is notable because it has incentives for routing appropriate discarded electronics toward refurbishment, which is a higher form of recycling than material recovery, and would greatly increase the supply of good used IT equipment to charities, schools, libraries, and low-income families in the US and elsewhere.


          Jimbo Welles: but eventually they need to be recycled somehow

          Widget Whiteberry wonders about practices in California …. given the size of the state, good practices in CA could have an impact.


originaljimlynch: I think the install base on PCs is currently 1.2 billion and cell phones around 5 billion in use. 90% are not recycled in any way


Slide 8

I think I covered the certification rivalry between R2 and E-Stewards. I expect that within the next couple of years they’ll end up merging to become a single world standard. These voluntary standards tend to be a stepping-stone toward creating a proper recycling system. About 35 countries in the world have national recycling systems and the rest of the 160 odd countries don’t have systems, most notably China and India, and even the US and Canada. We’ll be participating in an event in June to introduce them to the African industry.


Slide 9: Resources: Probably the single best one to look at is the nonprofit National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER)


That’s me if you wanna chat more about all this


          Glitteractica Cookie: but you could also just email community@techsoup or nonprofitcommons@techsoup and one of us will fwd to jim

          Rhiannon Chatnoir: great, any questions for Jim?

          Buffy Beale: Question: Is there anything we nonprofits can do to help the cause?

          Widget Whiteberry: Question: Have you looked specifically at California?


originaljimlynch: Yes! There’s a group we’re part of called the Electronics Takeback Coalition


          LoriVonne Lustre: Very informative. A world standard is needed.

          Komi Silverfall: how does the organization thrive if their is no profits coming in??

          Glitteractica Cookie: Question: which is the most reliable company to recycle phones? I am always a little dubious of those dropboxes in shopping malls that offer you money for your used phone. is that real and would it be recycled?


originaljimlynch: Great question. There’s lots of scamming still in charity cell phone recycling. The biggest and most reputable company doing it is called Recellular


Thanks for having me here in 2nd Life finally!


          ray2009 Hazelnut: What about electronic bits that don’t work anymore, TVs, watches, radios?


originaljimlynch: The little bits… a huge question I don’t think I can type fast enough.


          Rhiannon Chatnoir: more than happy if you want to add any extra information to post to our NPC blog

          Jimbo Welles: (you are doing fine Jim)

          Rhiannon Chatnoir: Yes, great that you could come into SL to join us all and thank you for your presentation

          Buffy Beale: hearty applause! Thanks Jim and look forward to the day it’s a world standard

          Jimbo Welles: keep fighting the good fight Jim!

          Zinnia Zauber: Thank you for joining us, Jim!

          Glitteractica Cookie: thx Jim!

          Namaara MacMoragh: thank you

          Beth Ghostraven: yes, thanks!

          Gentle Heron: Great information Jim.

          LoriVonne Lustre: ~~~applause~~~

          Namaara MacMoragh: *applause*

          Glitteractica Cookie: Applause!!

          Jen (jenelle.levenque): APPLAUSE. Thanks Jim

          CarmenLittleFawn: APPLAUSE


originaljimlynch: My humble thanks. (bows)


If you took pictures of this event, please share them on our Facebook group: or G+ Community:, that would be great. Otherwise, tag them #NPSL


And tag your avatars in any photos posted!

Written by: Rhiannon Chatnoir