Reuse and Recycle with Corey Dehmey

January 14, 2021

Corey Dehmey is the Executive Director of Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, known as SERI. SERI is a non-profit organization based in the United States working around the world to protect the planet and enrich lives by championing sustainable actions throughout the entire electronics lifecycle.

John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking engine revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With hundreds of athletes, entrepreneurs, speakers, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent for your next event. For more information, please visit letsengage.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have with us today, Corey Dehmey. He is the Executive Director of SERI, the Sustainable Electronics Recycling International. Welcome to Impact, Corey.

Corey Dehmey: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me.

John: Hey, this is your first go-round here on Impact. So for our listeners that don’t know about you or about SERI, can you first share a little bit of the Corey Dehmey story leading up to you taking over as the Executive Director of SERI? How do you even get here?

Corey: Sure, John. Well, you know being in the same industry, I think you probably had a bit of the same experience I had. Neither of us probably set out when we were in college to actually be in the electronics recycling business.

John: You are right.

Corey: How do we get here, right?

John: Yeah.

Corey: I have been in the IT industry all my life. I went to school. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Systems. I have worked in IT as a System Administrator through the Y2K Experience converting all the COBOL to four-year digits for the date. How did I get here? Well, I ended up on a contract managing the deployment of 350,000 computers in the early 2000s.

John: Wow.

Corey: All the infrastructure, the data centers, all the networking mobile in the back-end, everything. And so in the early 2000s, we had this great 10-year Mega Source Outsourcing deal. And then we did all this refresh and we never really thought about what are we going to do with all the stuff we are pulling out. So I got tapped to go figure out the reverse logistics of all these warehouses full of IT equipment. You know, what about the data on them? What do we do with them? That was my first foray into this industry is actually wiping data, set up the processes, and then reselling the equipment, recycling some of it. From there, it kind of snowballed into working for recyclers, consolidating, working on the R2 standard. And so here I am, years later now, actually getting to continue that impact on a day-to-day basis. Every day I wake up and focus on having a positive impact on the environment and on people around the world.

John: The nice thing is when you go to bed at night you really did make the world a better place. You and your organization really did make the world a better place. I think that is important to mention. You do great work and it is important work, Corey. For our listeners out there to find Corey and his colleagues and all the great work they are doing at SERI, you could go to www.sustainableelectronics.org. So, talk a bit about the mission of Sustainable Electronics and SERI and what you are doing there before we get into some more specific. Just the mission of it. The macro mission.

Corey: Sure. To simplify it, our purpose is protecting the planet and enriching people’s lives through championing sustainable actions throughout the entire electronics life cycle. We work to create a world where electronic products are reused and recycled in a way that promotes resource preservation, as well as the well-being of the natural environment and the health and safety of workers in the communities around them.

John: E-waste, when you and I were starting to wake up to this, like you said from your learnings from the installation of all those electronics, that this is really the dark side or the back side of the Technological Revolution. E-waste was the fastest growing solid waste stream 17 or 18 years ago. With the internet of things, and cars becoming computers on wheels, and white goods having computers in them now, it is probably the fastest growing solid waste from the world times two now. It is a bigger issue than ever before. Is that not correct?

Corey: It certainly continues to evolve into all things, from our doorbells to our garage door openers, and in everything we can imagine. What a wonderful thing it is, right?

John: Yeah.

Corey: I mean, technology is really creating such enrichment in our lives. The things that it can do, the speed at which we can do it, and the information. I mean, how many times you have a problem, you go to the internet, find a video to tell you how to fix your washer.

John: Corey, I feel like we are sitting together. You are in Pennsylvania and I am on Fresno, California, and I feel like we are 3 feet apart. I mean, it really made our personal and our professional lives so much more interesting and fun. I agree with you. I love it. I love it.

Corey: Imagine where we be today in the middle of a pandemic if we didn’t have that technology. If this would come to a halt and yet we can still do so many things remotely and get products delivered right to our house.

John: I’m with you. It has become a bigger issue. When you and I started waking up to it and getting involved either being drafted or just our learnings and then just leaning in some more and for our listeners out there, truth in advertising. I am the chairman of the ERI. ERI is a proud partner and certified body of SERI, and we have been since SERI was created. We believe greatly in the work that Corey is doing, his colleagues are doing, and everything that is going on at the Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, or SERI. You can find them at sustainableelectronics.org. But it has evolved now to be also a data issue. This issue Morgan Stanley recently got fined for data that was inside of their hardware. They got fined 60 or so million dollars. This is a serious, serious issue of data being contained in our old electronics. We are not only protecting the environment, but protecting the organizations that use electronics or the people that use electronics, which is everybody. Talk a bit about data breaches and E-waste dumping, and how they have converged and what you are doing to work on those issues, Corey.

Corey: Yeah. Well, it is a great point. Data is probably the primary motivator of anybody to consider that when they are getting rid of their electronics. Not knowing what to do with the data of course leads to hoarding and stockpiling of electronics at our closets. Homeowners were afraid of getting rid of it, right?

John: Right.

Corey: But we are missing that great opportunity if we hang on to it. That opportunity for somebody else to use those electronics. Someone who can’t afford to do can now get a used phone that we discarded because we upgraded. The way I see it is there is a great opportunity here. We could have our technology. We can upgrade. We can have the latest new. We can create a good people benefit to get our technology into somebody else’s hands. But like you said, it is all about the data. It is about erasing and making sure that it is gone so we can do that. We have seen companies who are obviously very much concerned about the data physically destroyed their devices instead of reusing them. That is unfortunate as well because then we have to go manufacture new ones and we don’t give the opportunity for others to use those devices. So, this data thing that you talked about is really a leading driver to make sure we do it right so that we can have all those benefits.

John: Then how do you adjust your leadership to rise to that occasion in terms of leading how we are certified as companies out there, as recycling companies, but also evolve with the times? How does that work? How do you balance all the interest, Corey?

Corey: So two pieces or more. First is education, right? Educating people on how to do this well. And so we have to set the standard so that we can educate based on that standard to do it well. We just released the new R2 Version 3 Standard. It came out in July. Completely redesigned and a huge focus in the new standard on data security from end-to-end, and how to not only wipe the data, verify that it is gone, but also all the security of the device itself in process from pick up to it actually wiped and into legitimate reuse of that device. Data is a huge focus throughout the new standard. That is where we start. Now, from that standard, we educate. And from education, then we take these facilities and we hold them accountable to it. We audit them. We certify. We make sure that it is being done well.

John: So no longer is it just an issue of protecting the planet anymore. You are also protecting the people that go to your website, choose an R2 Recycler. You are now helping guide them to protect their organization or their family by recycling their electronics with an R2 Recycler that now was also not only doing everything responsibly when it comes to the environment, but when it also comes to data destruction.

Corey: Yeah, exactly. It is all connected, right?

John: Yeah.

Corey: So in order to get the reuse piece, in order to get the environmental protection, we have to deal with the data first, right?

John: Right. How is that been received by the recyclers? How long will that evolution take for them to adopt your new standard?

Corey: This is brand-new. July 1, it was released. We are on a track for three years to upgrade everyone to the new version of the standard. It takes time. It is an investment. This isn’t something light. It does take resources. It takes time to implement, and there is some changes to make. Some people are already there, right? They are already ahead of the curve. They are already doing a lot of these things, so they are not going to have a big leap to make. But others, you don’t have some catching up to do, and that is good. That moves us all forward.

John: A lot of times people lead with fear and negativity in the market to sell their brand or market their brand when it comes to recycling anything. Nonetheless, electronics are also included in that. Talk a little bit about positivity. Yes, E-waste is the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world, and yes, now it is also data containing. But can you share some positivity on hope, on good things that are happening in the electronics recycling world both nationally and internationally. I know you travel a lot. You and I were together last in India a couple years back. You are an international speaker besides speaking nationally. Your voice matters. Can you share some of the positive changes besides your new standard that are happening so people can really feel good about where we are headed?

Corey: Yeah. Technology connects people. It educates. It provides market opportunities. Being able to share technology with people who can’t otherwise afford it. The amazing part of this industry is the reuse part of this industry before that equipment is really end of life. So when you take a step back and you see where we are today versus where we were even just a few short years ago, we are beginning to think differently about our electronics and the data that they hold. That is leading some better decision making especially as it relates to recycling. So we have created systems like the R2 System to educate about responsible and recycling practices, and to hold facilities accountable to this practices. So customers now, I think you have seen this John firsthand, customers are better educated. And so now the first question they ask is, “Are you certified?” Whether it is R2, e-Steward, CENELEC, ATEX, made a decent resolve to these options to fit.

John: Right.

Corey: That is the progress we have made over the last 10 years. We are starting to think about how reuse can really help and enrich lives by working on issues like digital inclusion, bridging the digital divide. We see computers for education, especially in this pandemic, John. I am sure your business has experienced this too. There is a mad rush for electronics to use at home so our children can learn and continue to learn from the home instead of in school. So the whole industry has been instrumental in bridging that digital divide and getting the electronics, computers, tablets, into the home, into low-income homes as well to make sure that every child can learn from home and can continue their education. We see that also around the world, in vast remote parts of the world, and combine that John with mobile technology, right? We don’t have to run a cable to every home or every area. We don’t have to have all these LAN cables. We can now put up mobile towers, right? We can get people connected to the entire world through a mobile tower and through the internet. It is pretty awesome how fast we have made progress in the last 10 years.

John: That is really a great point. The role that we play, our industry plays, in helping to create equal access to education for America’s youth, and like you said, the world’s youth really because electronics can be that great democratizer. That is a great, great point, Corey. I am glad you point that out. That is really important to share the role that we can play as responsible recyclers and as an industry as a whole. Corey, you are known leader. You are one of the most respected people in the world on this topic of electronics recycling and responsible recycling. Besides the new standard and the next three years of your recyclers adopting this and baking it into their facilities and their practices, what are the other things you are thinking about in terms of leading SERI into the future? What else are you thinking about as we get over this tragic crisis of COVID-19? And as I share with our company all the time, I don’t believe we are going to go back to a new normal. I think we are going to go back to a new better. I know SERI is creating a new better with your standard. You did it. You released it during the pandemic, which we are all thankful for. But where else do you want to drive SERI in the months and years ahead?

Corey: Yeah. Thanks, John. We are going beyond R2. That is the simplest way to say it, beyond R2. We, as an industry, have focused for the last 30 years with this thing called E-waste, right?

John: Right.

Corey: And really, when you think about it, it is a reaction to a problem that we created a long time ago. And you know why we need to continue to manage E-waste in the present, right? We won’t solve it until we actually get out in front of it. So this requires thinking about all those decisions that are made in the life cycle of our electronics and how each affects the sustainability of that device. You are going all the way back to design. For example, replacing a battery, something as simple as that. The impact that that has on the repair of the product and the ability to use it longer, as well as recycling it. We can’t throw a product with a battery into a shredder. We have to still manually dismantle that. And then think about our buying behaviors, right? Becoming more sophisticated in how we buy and being educated about our choices, about the impacts of the low, low price, the immediate return on that versus the long-term cost of a product. Can we repair it? Can we use it longer? Do we need the latest and greatest upgrades and functionality? What do we do with those devices when we upgrade? Do we put them in a drawer? Do we give them to our children, our parents? A cascading effect that we can continue to use them. We put them back into the market to a trade and give other people the opportunity to use these devices. Do we fix it or recycle it? These are all choices in the life cycle that if we can get ahead of this E-waste problem, we can have a very positive outcome. SERI is really focused on getting to zero E-waste. Those products are used to their maximum lifetime, and the materials that are in those products can be fully recovered and put back into the manufacturing stream. We talked about this big concept called circular economy, right?

John: Yeah.

Corey: It is much bigger than just E-waste. It is much bigger than our electronics. We are just focused on our part, our slice of that circular economy. So some exciting news, we have a new person starting that we hired a Director of Development in SERI programs. This person is going to be in phenomenal, first of all, but is really going to put the resources from SERI’s organization towards doing more than R2, and leading into all kinds of other areas of digital inclusion, of education, of championing that sustainable actions throughout the lifecycle. So we are really excited about that, so stay tuned.

John: That is really great, great news. I’m going to leave it for you for any final words besides stay tuned. Do you have any final thoughts before we have to say goodbye for today, Corey?

Corey: This is a big issue and a big opportunity. We have a long way to go and we are excited about continuing that journey to sustainability. So look forward to talking more in the future, John, and figuring out how we get there.

John: We are going to have you back many times more. For our listeners out there, if you are going to hire a recycler to recycle your electronics, wherever you sit in the United States or around the world, please go to Corey and his colleagues’ great website, sustainableelectronics.org. That is sustainableelectronics.org. All the R2 Recyclers around the world are listed there. Check out, pick one of those R2 Recyclers and make sure they do what they say they are going to do with your materials. Corey Dehmey, we are really, really honored to have you on today. This is your first go-around on Impact. I have heard you publicly speak before. You are clear, brilliant, and articulate. I am so grateful for the impact that you are making to this planet. You are making the world a greener and better place every day. Thank you again for all the work that you do.

Corey: Thanks, John. Be well and be safe.