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.
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.