Building a healthier technology supply chain means having an end-of-life strategy for hardware to prevent servers and monitors from ending up in storage closets, or mobile handsets and tablets in filing cabinets or drawers -- or landfills.
Last week, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced an industry-wide electronics recycling initiative it calls the eCycling Leadership Initiative, modestly characterizing it as a "watershed moment in the history of electronics recycling in the United States."
Other than announcing the initiative, the CEA didn't provide many details on how the organization and participating companies such as Best Buy, Panasonic of North America, Sony Electronics, and Toshiba America Information Systems, among others, will inform the public about the project or carry out the program. (The CEA did, helpfully, estimate that 1 billion pounds of electronics would fill about 88.9 million cubic feet, equivalent to an entire 71,000-seat NFL stadium.)
Online tools and mobile applications to help make recycling used electronics as easy as buying new ones is a major piece of the initiative. For now, though, the online tool appears as an incomplete map of the United States.
After the CEA announcement, I caught up with Barbara Kyle, the national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Kyle seemed surprised the CEA didn't make a "strong statement" about not exporting e-waste. So many recyclers don't recycle, but rather export to countries like China. It causes a great deal of toxic exposure to people and environment, she said. Many companies have initiatives that prohibit this from happening, so an industry-wide effort that doesn't address that issue seems incomplete and "irresponsible," she said.
Personally, one of the major issues I have around electronics recycling remains erasing the sensitive data on my mobile phone or computer. How do I wipe the data, completely, before turning it in to the recycling center?
Kyle believes the plan should focus on data cleansing on equipment such as servers, computers, and mobile phones, and should go beyond individual state compliance goals. And will each individual electronics company program feed into a bigger industry-wide program?
Consumers want to return old televisions, computers, printers, GPS systems, mobile phones, and other electronics to one location, and not to a recycler in an industrial part of town, because many people just don't like to travel to those locations, Kyle said, noting that states like Washington and Oregon have state laws producing good results by offering one-stop information shopping on easy-to-use Websites.
Producer/manufacturer responsibility laws in 24 states make recycling easy. They have collection goals all the way down to counties and cities of more than 10,000 people. These towns advertise and market programs because they need to meet a goal. Kyle said in Texas, for example, during the first year of the e-waste program, Dell Inc. collected 85 percent of products returned.
In "the second year Sony and Samsung Electronics stepped up, too, but last year Dell collected 10 million pounds in Texas, compared with Hewlett-Packard with 40,000, which is virtually zero," Kyle said. "Companies are trying to do this voluntarily because they don't want states to pass new laws."
With the CEA member companies and Website lacking information about the eCycling Leadership Initiative, it appears they simply want to jump on the bandwagon for Earth Day on April 22.