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Can Good E-Waste Efforts Soften High-Tech’s Uncaring Image?

The high-tech industry’s efforts to dispose of electronic products that contain hazardous substances can illustrate the importance the industry puts on the world we live in.

In fact, the growth of electronic devices has spawned many e-waste (electronic waste) recycling initiatives, both in the US and across the globe, that are tasked with collecting used TVs, computers, cellphones, and other electronic products. These items not only possess valuable materials for reuse, but also contain harmful substances, such as lead and mercury, which can be dangerous to humans and the environment.

Removing harmful electronic products in a responsible way is not only the right thing to do, but also creates an opportunity for high-tech companies to demonstrate that they take their corporate responsibility to the environment and society seriously.

One project that is seeing some success with its e-waste plans is the eCycling Leadership Initiative, which represents a collaborative effort between consumer electronics manufacturers, retailers, collectors, recyclers, non-governmental organizations, and governments at the federal, state, and local level.

The organization recently released its second annual report, which updates the industry on recycling efforts across the US. The results confirm that adding more recycling locations, as well as making consumers aware of their responsibilities to participate in the e-waste recycling effort, has yielded positive results for the organization, which says it wants to increase the amount of electronics collected for recycling to one billion pounds annually by 2016.

Forgotten But Not Gone

The tech sector often is associated with these images, but not only is the removal of e-waste good for the environment, it's also a thriving business.

The tech sector often is associated with these images, but not only is the removal of e-waste good for the environment, it’s also a thriving business.

Key results
The report found that:

  • Companies working in the eCycling Leadership Initiative took in more than 585 million pounds of electronics that were responsibly recycled in 2012. This is an increase of more than 25 percent (460 million pounds) over 2011, and nearly a 100 percent increase over 2010 (300 million pounds).
  • The number of recycling drop-off locations are also on the rise. As of April 2013, there are more than 8,000 recycling locations available to consumers in the US, a slight increase from the 7,500 recycling locations recorded in 2011. In 2010, the number of recycling locations stood at 5,000. These locations are associated with a variety of public and private sector organizations including retail stores such as Best Buy and Staples, local government sites and charities, processing centers, and other drop-off locations that are sponsored by consumer electronics manufacturers and retailers.
  • In 2012, 99 percent of electronic recycling by eCycling Leadership Initiative participants was conducted in third-party certified recycling facilities.

The market for e-waste
Not only is the removal of e-waste good for the environment, but it’s also a thriving business that is growing across the globe. According to SBI, a division of MarketResearch.com, which tracks a wide range of industrial and consumer markets, in 2010, the e-waste recycling and reuse services market value totaled close to $6.8 billion, up slightly from $6.2 billion in 2009. Predictions are that the market will continue to grow at least through the next decade, with collection services alone more than tripling by 2020.

A perfect time to care
Making money from e-waste reuse and recycling is one part of the story; helping to protect the planet and its inhabitants from harmful substances is another. In the “too big to be held accountable” era of unprecedented corporate greed and corruption, individuals have lost faith in a number of institutions, including banks and financial corporations, religious institutions, and Congress. In this environment, any effort on the part of the high-tech industry to demonstrate that it wants to responsibly recycling e-waste is a positive sign.

After all, recent news reports of suicides at Foxconn Technology Group’s manufacturing plants, massive layoffs at Hewlett-Packard Co., Nokia Corporation, and other companies, as well as the propensity to establish manufacturing plants in locations with low-wage labor, gives onlookers the impression that the high-tech industry is harsh, cold, and unfeeling.

A high-tech industry that shows environmental leadership is a step in the right direction, and could present electronics companies with an opportunity to show that they have the ability to care about something other than profits and Wall Street analysts’ opinions.

15 comments on “Can Good E-Waste Efforts Soften High-Tech’s Uncaring Image?

  1. _hm
    May 7, 2013

    High -tech organization are uncaring. They do not provide consumer choice of good product with minimum warranty of three years or better. If they put good effort in design and production, they can easily provide three years of warranty. This will save money for common person and also reduces waste significantly.

  2. FLYINGSCOT
    May 8, 2013

    Anything a company can do for the environement must be a good thing.  It is good for morale and sometimes good for the bottom line too.

  3. The Source
    May 8, 2013

    FLYINGSCOT,

    I agree. However, even if a company was unable to earn a single penning on its efforts to dispose of electronic equipment, these efforts would still be a worthwhile endeavor.       

  4. SunitaT
    May 9, 2013

    High -tech organization are uncaring.

    @_hm, its hard to do such generalization. For example Nokia India has launched 'Take Back' campaign to educate mobile phone users on the importance of recycling e-waste. Though this new campaign, Nokia aims to encourage users to dispose their old handsets and accessories like charges and handsets.

  5. SunitaT
    May 9, 2013

    Anything a company can do for the environement must be a good thing.

    @Flyingscot, very true. I think end users should also realise this fact and should appreciate the efforts of such companies who are trying hard to contribute to the environment by buying their products.

  6. Ariella
    May 9, 2013

    @tiralpur the question is: would they be willing to spend more to buy products from a company that does care for the envionment? And if they are, how much more? Some recycled products, for example, cost more than non-recycled one, and I do wonder how the sales compare.

  7. The Source
    May 9, 2013

    Ariella,

    In 2007, a survey of global consumers showed that 53% of respondents prefer to purchase products and services from companies that have a strong environmental reputation. I suspect that since the 2007 survey the number of consumers who prefer to purchase products from companies that are environmentally friendly has grown.  I hope I'm correct.  Here's the link to the article:

    http://www.environmentalleader.com/2007/10/02/53-of-consumers-prefer-to-buy-from-companies-with-green-rep/

     

  8. Ariella
    May 9, 2013

    Thanks for that link. I did a little searching on my own and found this: http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2273-shoppers-pay-socially-responsible-companies.html It lists categories of people willing ot pay more, though it doesn't say how much more:

    Nielsen's Global Corporate Citizenship Survey found that 46 percent of global consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society.

    Younger consumers tend to be more socially conscious, the research shows. Just over half of those consumers between 15 and 39 years old said they were willing to pay extra for such items, compared with 37 percent of those over 40.

    Nic Covey, vice president of Nielsen's global corporate social responsibility program Nielsen Cares, said it's clear that corporate social responsibility efforts resonate with a specific group of consumers.

    “Marketers need to know who those consumers are in order to maximize the social and business return of their cause marketing efforts,” Covey said. “This understanding allows brands to engage in social impact efforts that appeal to the right consumers with the right causes and through the right channels.”

    Shoppers outside of the U.S. are leading the social responsibility push. The study revealed a larger percentage of consumers in Asia Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are willing to pay extra for products and services from socially responsible companies than their North American and European peers.

    The highest concentration of socially conscious consumers is in the Philippines; nearly 70 percent of those surveyed were willing to pay extra. The Netherlands came in last among the countries surveyed, with only 21 percent of its surveyed residents saying they were willing to spend more.

     

  9. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 10, 2013

    In my opinion, if the environment protection is really to be implemented in a full spirit, Each country should make it legally binding for the manufacturer to take back its product when the purchaser wants to dump it. The companies buying back their products should not be seen as doing something great. It should become their legal responsibility and the companies who are unwilling to do it should be penalized by the law.

    Similarly the consumers who do not return their old products to the manufacturer should be penalized too.

  10. garyk
    May 10, 2013

    The manufacurer should take back the E-Waste, within there manufacturing process they generate Re-Claim they already have a way to dispose of the E-Waste!!!

    Question: How long to you keep a cell phone, computer or anyother comminication device? 2 yrs? Design obsoleacences is built in so you can keep purchasing new toys. This keeps the CM's working. When products fail what does the failure anaylsis say? My guess is that Tin Whiskering from the Lead Free components caused the failure.

    Has anyone reached why the price solder gone up so high in the US? (Solder Bars, Solder Wire and Solder Past)

  11. SunitaT
    May 11, 2013

    would they be willing to spend more to buy products from a company that does care for the envionment?

    @Ariella, very good question. I think we need to educate people abou this. We should encourage people to buy products from a company which cares for the environment. I am sure people will pay some extra premium on such products.

  12. t.alex
    May 13, 2013

    Definitely I will too. But how can I know which company really cares about the environment? Some companies just try to pay more more money on marketing and polishing themselves as ones which care about environment. 

  13. The Source
    May 13, 2013

    t.alex,

    This might help to guide you. Here is a list that was published last year from Greenpeace that ranks consumer electronics companies based on their work and commitment to three environmental areas: Energy and Climate, Greener Products, and Sustainable Operations.

    http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it/Campaign-analysis/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/

     

     

  14. SunitaT
    May 14, 2013

    Here is a list that was published last year from Greenpeace that ranks consumer electronics companies based on their work and commitment to three environmental areas

    @The Source, thanks a lot for sharing this link. The current version of the report ranks the companies based on the overall score. I really wish we had multiple such reports based on the product the companies are manufacturing. For example a seperate report for mobile OEM, sepearate report tablet OEM's etc.

  15. t.alex
    May 14, 2013

    The Source, 

    This is very good resource for companies to adopt and follow. We would like to see more companies on the greener scale.

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