As we as individuals and companies upgrade our computers, smartphones, TVs and other electronics, we generate more and more electronic waste (e-waste). Despite the efforts of the industry, regulators, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), e-waste disposal is still a global problem.

Improper disposal of e-waste can have severe ramifications on the environment and to persons exposed to hazardous materials released when trying to get precious metals from our electronic devices, as evidenced by this article and photographs in the Wall Street Journal on the digital dumping ground in Ghana. Much of the e-waste that ends up in places like this originates in the USA. Unfortunately, despite all the publicity and laws concerning the disposal of e-waste, improper exporting and handling continues to happen in the computer recycling industry. Why? The fact is that the unethical and illegal shipping of e-waste usually pays more than the legal, best practice process.

When selecting an electronics recycler, you should ensure that they are certified (either R2 or e-Stewards) to be certain that your material is not ending up in a digital dumping ground like the one photographed by Emilio Fraile. Certified vendors track the downstream flow of material until it’s a commodity.It is a good business practice to ask who their downstream vendors are. These certifications also hold the processor to strict worker health and safety standards. Also be aware that the EPA does not certify any company for e-waste processing, so if a company claims EPA certification or approval, ask a lot more questions.

LifeSpan has worked extremely hard over the years to help develop and support standards for our industry. Unfortunatley, today it is still too easy for someone to set up an e-waste recycling business and not handle, store, and process the material properly. Keep in mind that doing it right is not the cheapest or easiest way of handling e-waste. If a company says that their recycling process is free, or they won’t tell you the details of how they process and dispose of it, you should ask a lot of questions because there’s a good chance that they are not following industry best practices or regulations.

Don’t get caught using a vendor that ends up in the news for this kind of activity. Even though a cost may be involved with proper recycling processes, it is imperative not to risk environmental non-compliance or bad publicity. For further information on recycling processes, download our Guide to Environmental Compliance.

Read more: Recycling Computers and Electronics Sustainably on Earth Day