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The Electronics Reuse & Recycling Alliance (TERRA), headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, is the brainchild of sales and marketing veteran Steven Napoli. He was inspired to create the alliance of certified facilities after learning more about Nashville-based R2- (Responsible Recycling-) certified electronics recycler Tri-Star Recycling LLC. A former colleague of Napoli’s led that company, and he began to consider the marketing challenges the business faced.

“There’s probably about 900 e-Stewards- and R2-certified recyclers nationwide,” Napoli says. “When I started researching, I didn’t see any news about these organizations or why certified electronics recyclers were important. I thought, ‘This industry has a sales and marketing problem.’”

With 25 years of sales and marketing experience, Napoli says he created TERRA to help certified e-scrap recyclers and information technology asset disposition (ITAD) firms bring awareness to the industry, build their businesses and “bring them together in ways that might open some opportunities for smaller companies that have [a] certain geographic reach.”

Napoli continues, “Having spent several months calling and talking to certified recyclers, I learned the certification agencies themselves are nonprofits. They are managing the actual certification process. They aren’t really geared to be marketing organizations.”

By joining an alliance of certified recyclers, he says, these operations “could be more competitive. They could get their message out there. It just seemed like an opportunity this industry was missing.”

Forming the alliance

In March 2019, Napoli created TERRA, first focusing on “testing some ideas and potential programs we might be able to roll out” with Tri-Star Recycling in Nashville. That’s how TERRA’s mail-in electronics recycling program, Done with IT, was created. The program allows businesses and individuals to purchase a box and shipping label, pack the box with their used electronics and ship it to a certified recycling facility within TERRA’s network.

“We knew from a logistics standpoint, you can’t just have one facility,” Napoli says. “Shipping costs increase the farther you get from the facility. Our strategy was to have multiple partners nationwide, so we can string together this alliance of recyclers working together in common cause.”

TERRA has grown from one certified facility to 23 certified facilities nationwide, covering a service area from Southern California to New Jersey and Florida to Portland, Oregon. Following Tri-Star Recycling, Infinite Electronics Recycling LLC, Wintersville, Ohio, was the next to join. American Recycling, Lincoln, Nebraska; Cobalt, Middletown, Ohio; Corporate eWaste Solutions, Brea, California; Far West Metals, Tualatin, Oregon; Omega Recycling Solutions, Jackson, Tennessee; Newtech Recycling Inc., Franklin Township, New Jersey; and Sadoff E-Recycling & Data Destruction, Oshkosh, Wisconsin, joined shortly thereafter.

“We’re starting to create a really viable network of certified recyclers that are going to be positioned to not only advocate [for] and talk about the industry in a different way but elevate it beyond Fortune 1,000 companies that already by best practices use a certified recycler for their material,” Napoli says. “I’m encouraged by the number of certified recyclers that see the value of marketing what they do and expanding [recycling] opportunities to areas, especially underserved communities that are recycling deserts, with our Done with IT program.”

“The benefit of TERRA is being able to provide accessibility and that confidence that data is being handled responsibly and not ending up in the landfill.” – Steven Napoli, president and CEO, TERRA

With TERRA’s network of 23 certified facilities, Done with IT now serves more than 246 million people in 41 states. The program offers boxes that can accommodate 10, 20 and 70 pounds of electronics, which businesses and individuals can purchase to ship their end-of-life devices to certified recyclers for recycling and refurbishment. The ZIP code of the shipper determines which TERRA member receives the material for processing, Napoli says.

TERRA also has rolled out programs just for phones, tablets and laptops and even offers options for on-site data destruction, collection event scheduling and collection services.

Done with IT already has attracted larger corporations, including Target.

“We were invited by Target to have our membership provide information for consideration to be their e-scrap and ITAD service provider,” Napoli says. “They came to us because we have this large network. For businesses that are geographically diverse, we can be a one-stop shop for them in terms of engaging with certified recyclers.

“For our members, a lot of certified recyclers are small businesses. We’re giving them the opportunity be part of something larger and collaborate. If they’re located in Nashville and have clientele in Philadelphia, they can contact a TERRA member in Ohio and work out a deal. Those are the kind of relationships we’re building. We’re getting these folks to work together rather than independently and build value for this industry.”

Photo courtesy of TERRA

Increasing transparency

Sadoff E-Recycling & Data Destruction operates seven e-recycling drop-off facilities and two R2-certified processing facilities in Oshkosh and in La Vista, Nebraska.

One of the biggest overarching challenges in the electronics recycling sector is transparency, Jason Lasky, executive vice president at Sadoff, says, which is why certified operators are so important.

He adds, “I think transparency has always been an issue, and some of these certification agencies, like R2 and e-Stewards, are trying to reduce that because you need to know where these materials are going in order to know they’re being handled responsibly.”

As Lasky watched more recyclers join TERRA, he says the exclusivity of the Done with IT program as well as the marketing opportunity was appealing enough to become a member.

“Basically, you can lock in a region where you’re doing business,” he says. “It’s a first-come, first-serve opportunity to lock down some of the territories.”

Lasky says the larger reason Sadoff joined the program was to promote certified electronics recycling.

“In the world of data and used electronics that contain sensitive information, I think it’s important for people to understand there are people in their corner to help them with solutions,” he says.

“Our customers are being educated to ask better questions of us, which is a very positive thing,” Lasky adds. “We don’t want them to go to someone that’s not certified. If something happens, it affects the whole industry. This supports and encourages companies to want to be a part of doing things right.”

Growth potential

While TERRA and Done with IT are still growing and face challenges, such as the cost of shipping, the alliance has the potential to make an impact on the industry, Napoli says. For example, TERRA is launching Done with IT across schools in Nashville. It also offers what Napoli calls a Sustainer membership, which allows the businesses that use the services of TERRA members to offer their employees a discount code to recycle their personal electronics through the program. Additionally, Community members, which are city/county governments, chambers of commerce and other civic and environmental organizations, can extend a 10 percent discount to their residents and members who use Done with IT.

“It’s a great way for our recyclers that do community collection events to extend it beyond the one day they are there,” Napoli says of the discount.

“There’s challenges TERRA is going to have to overcome in high-density areas where recycling is easily accessible. ... [B]ut I think this type of program can help increase accessibility in rural areas,” Lasky says. “The benefit of TERRA is being able to provide accessibility and that confidence that data is being handled responsibly and not ending up in the landfill.”

The author was the digital editor for the Recycling Today Media Group.