Postal Service's BlueEarth Program helps agencies safely clear up clutter

Friday - 12/20/2013, 7:28am EST

Tom Day, chief sustainability officer at the Postal Service, on the Federal Drive.

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With the holiday season coming up, you may want to toss out your old Kindle Fire for the new HDX. Or your iPhone 4 for a new 5S.

But many devices contain hazardous materials that can cause environmental damage when sent to landfills.

Through the Postal Service's BlueEarth Recycling Program, federal employees can safely and conveniently dispose of their devices.

Tom Day, chief sustainability officer at the Postal Service, said the program has two primary goals.

"One, that it's being properly disposed of, repurposed, reused, whatever the right thing to do with the item is. And secondly, you want to do it securely," he said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

Feds can recycle a range of electronics, from tablets and smartphones to small printers and ink cartridges. These products can be either official agency property or personal property belonging to federal employees.

And they don't have to travel far. Feds recycling their personal electronics simply leave the box with their outgoing mail, or bring them into their office if the agency agrees.

"The great news for them, at least for their purposes, is the postage is free," Day said. "And we take care of that with our partner, who benefits from the fact that they're getting electronic waste that still has value."

USPS has partnered with Clover Technologies Group. Day said the Postal Service handles deliveries, while Clover takes care of the recycling process.

The agency launched the program in the spring of 2012. That year, USPS collected 1,300 tons of electronic waste.

The value from used electronics brings in money for the Postal Service. Even though the agency is providing free postage, it still generated $750,000 in revenue in 2012.

"It doesn't have to be the most recent device to have value," Day said. "There are markets around the world where electronic devices can be repurposed. Not just ground up and recycled, but literally reused."

Many agency electronics contain sensitive or classified data. Employees who recycle their personal devices also want to ensure that their photos, passwords and contact information are fully erased.

Day said each agency is responsible for following its own security measures. The Postal Service ensures its hard drives are wiped clean before disposing them.

"But to be absolutely sure and safe ... [Clover Technologies] makes sure the drives are properly disposed of. And if it can't be repurposed, it's ground up so that none of the data is being reused by anybody," he said. "It is a safe transfer of the goods that come to us, in turn to Clover and in turn to them being properly disposed of, repurposed or reused."

The BlueEarth Recycling Program works in a three-step process.

If an agency is signed up for the program, federal employees can go online and select the type of electronics they plan to dispose.

Next, the website provides a label that feds can print and affix to the shipping box.

Finally, they give the box to their postal carrier for pick-up.

"What's great for the Postal Service is this just becomes part of our routine," Day said.

Ten agencies so far have signed up for the program and are in various stages of implementation.

"We've got memos of understanding, and they're all working to get the word out to their own employees to get the programs established," Day said. "We want to get everyone signed up in the federal sector as quickly as possible ... and provide benefit to the Postal Service, to the agencies and really to the U.S. in general that we're going to do the right thing and properly handle electronic waste in the federal government."

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