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New E-Waste Recycling Initiative Lacks Conviction

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, {complink 1544|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.

10 comments on “New E-Waste Recycling Initiative Lacks Conviction

  1. Taimoor Zubar
    April 18, 2011

    I have always believed that the best use of disposed electronic consumer goods is to extract their internal parts and use them into new products. Apart from the mechanical components, most of the internal electronic parts are in working condition and can easily be used. For some reason (perhaps because of quality control regulations) companies are reluctant to reuse the same parts and focus on procuring new ones. This makes it much difficult to recycle the products. I think reusing components should be made as an objective in the e-waste recycling programs.

  2. SunitaT
    April 18, 2011

    Laurie,

     I agree with you that many people just don't like to travel to locations to return old electronics goods. I think companies should come-up with initiatives like “discounts on returning old electronic items” which will encourage users to return old goods.

  3. saranyatil
    April 18, 2011

    E-waste recycling is the next major initiative that needs to be concentrated on to create an green environment. one step can be adopted by selecting materials which can get easily decomposed, this should be done in each and very process.

    Tirlapur, as you mentioned many companies in Asia are following Exchange offers with most of the houseold gadgets.

  4. Adeniji Kayode
    April 18, 2011

    I also agree with you that a system whereby consumers can return old gadgets would be great. 

    On the other hand, one of the challenges of this system is that the internal components of the same electronics but different manufacturers are always different  which makes it hard for components  to be used for another electronic.The best option is discounts on new electronics at the point of returning the old one. Then the old ones can now undergo a complete recycling processes and made in to something new.

  5. tioluwa
    April 18, 2011

    I guess the issue of the quality of the components makes direct reuse a proble for manufacturers, if that is the case, then complete recycling remains a big problem.

    I wonder, does anyone know exactly what these companies do to the recycled goods they collect?

    I know the plastic and other materials for the covering are recyclable, but how much of the actual electronics section can be recycled well enough to give adequate economic value to manufacturers, because if there isn't sufficient economic benefit, i'm sure we know by now that few people will see it through.

     

    I also totally agree with the concept of discount on returning old electronics, but that is only possible if the component being returned is of high enough economic value to the manufacturer, if most of the parts can't be used directly, then what's the point.

  6. Anna Young
    April 18, 2011

    Laurie I agree, wiping sensitive data from computer, mobile phones before recycling is an issue. One would wonder how this could be safely wiped out before disposing or recycling.

    E qually, the concept of returning old electronic items at a discounted price when buying a new one sounds good, this is currently done in Asia. It would be a good idea if major electronic outlets and manufacturers encourage and follow up on this

     

  7. Jay_Bond
    April 19, 2011

    This is a great idea but obviously needs some improvements so more people use it. The first issue is how to deal with sensitive materials on the items. If there was a way the individuals could do this easily, that might help. The second issue is there is no simple place to drop these off or have them picked up. Many people don't want to travel to certain parts of the city, or they just live too far away. If companies like Best Buy would offer a drop off point free of charge, many people would take advantage of this.

    The biggest hurdle to be faced is the consumers’ general attitude towards recycling. Let's face it there are millions of households out there that don't recycle simple things like paper and plastic. These are the people we are trying to get through to to help the environment. It would most likely be these individuals who wouldn't recycle their electronics even if they were available.

     

  8. stochastic excursion
    April 19, 2011

    Salvaging waste products is usually never part of a new business model.  People are focused on creating high demand and buying in volume with long-term supplier arrangements.  Niche opportunities exist however for salvage in all industries, and are a good resource for scavengers and job shops alike.  In the event that there is a tightening of supply for certain materials–a situation more and more familiar to some of late–an established salvage operation can pay dividends.

  9. tioluwa
    April 20, 2011

    So invariably, if companies work with long term agreements with suppliers, then e-waste has little use for large semiconductor companies.

    Again, i really don't know, what recycling processing can be performed on waste electronic parts if they cannot be directly reused?

  10. Laurie Sullivan
    April 21, 2011

    I'm seeing increasingly more refurbished electronics.  Could some components be used in refurbished goods provided the finished product comes with some sort of warranty. Do you think that's possible, similar to a pre-owned car?  Or is quality so poor these days on some equipment that companies just can't take the chance?

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