Due to COVID-19, many electronics recycling companies – e-scrap companies – are facing new challenges in attempting to deal with certification audits.
Many of these companies have already had to navigate key material supply shifts and confront other safety concerns because of the novel coronavirus. But the various lockdown and social distancing measures and the decreased willingness of many people to travel has also caused trouble for companies seeking to get their annual certification audits.
E-scrap companies play an important role in the fight for sustainability. These companies purchase old and worn-out electronics, including computers, cellphones, circuit boards, hard drives and many others.
These businesses take the old and worn-out electronics they purchase, recycle them, and sell the recycled material. It’s an important part of the fight for sustainability: recycling materials used in electronics, including various metals, reduces the demand for them to be mined.
The Certification Challenge
All e-scrap companies with either R2 or e-Stewards must have their sites audited for sustainability at least annually. Ordinarily, that would mean hosting one or more experts from a third-party company.
Sustainability certification auditors typically take the time to not only inspect documents, but also interview workers and examine the companies’ processes and workplace safety.
The problem many of them are facing is that they need to get their certification audits completed, but it is much harder to do this in the midst of a pandemic. To cope, they are participating in an on-the-fly reinvention of the certification auditing sector for the age of social distancing.
One solution is remote audits. Files are shared digitally, and auditors and company representatives can video conference.
At present, companies with certifications in good standing that simply need an annual surveillance review can generally get remote audits. The situation is more complicated for those that are looking to get certification for the first time.
For these companies, the process starts with a Stage 1 audit, a general check of documentation and management systems. This is something that can be completed with a remote audit.
The challenge is Stage 2 audits, which are more time-intensive and require an auditor to examine all segments of a facility. t
Where on-site audits are still required, many companies are delaying them in the hopes of a return to more normal conditions by the end of the year.
But as a tumultuous year begins to wind down, many e-scrap firms are already facing a scheduling crunch.
The R2 standard is requiring Stage 2 reviews to take place on-site. However, the e-Stewards standard is relaxing this requirement.
Looking Toward the Future
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was already a movement afoot to handle at least some of the requirements of auditing remotely. Remote audits mean reduced costs for facility operators, since they have to pay for auditors’ travel costs. They are also a big win for traveling auditors, who typically have clients booked back-to-back.
Of course, remote audits also reduce carbon footprint, making them a win for sustainability – an unexpected silver lining in a challenging time.