In a long, low brick building in Kansas City’s West Bottoms is a non-profit called The Surplus Exchange, one of the most responsible recyclers in North America. Founded in the late 80’s, The Surplus Exchange was the first company in Missouri or Kansas to achieve e-Steward certification, a standard set by the Basel Action Network, the world’s only organization working to eliminate toxic trade.
More than 70% of “recycled” American e-waste is going to Asia, India, and South America, where women and children often work in harsh conditions, smelting metal over open fires and breathing toxic fumes. Leaded glass is often left beside streams, turning whole areas into toxic wastelands where it will be impossible to grow food, raise cattle or drink clean water. Increases in birth defects and cancers have already been seen in China as a result of these practices. Bob Akers, executive director of Surplus Exchange, warns, “Please be wary of companies who offer to take away your materials for free or even pay you for them. Ask whether your materials will stay in the United States. Don’t do business with companies that contribute to this growing injustice in some of the world’s poorest countries.” As a founding member of the national e-Stewards Leadership Council, Bob is actively helping to shape U.S. national policy, as well, for e-waste.
At Surplus Exchange, no e-waste ever goes to a third world country, nor does it go to American landfills. More than 1 million pounds of KC e-waste is handled responsibly every year. All equipment received is first audited by technicians to determine if it can be refurbished or re-sold. As a result, Surplus Exchange often has near-new computers and other equipment for sale at a fraction of retail prices. Software and data are removed according to Microsoft’s standards, and end-of-life materials are dealt with responsibly, down to the last lead solder. Best of all, retired equipment is often donated to a local school or non-profit, sometimes with a tax deduction. And Surplus Exchange picks up e-waste at local companies, usually at no charge—making it very easy to do the right thing with e-waste in Kansas City.