So, do you know where to recycle your used electronics? Is it easily accessible from your home or office, and is the program convenient for you?
What you will learn after asking those questions is that most people you talk to will know they should recycle used electronics, some even where to take their used electronics, but all of them will have a different idea about what would make a program convenient for them. Even though there isn't a clear consensus on what it means, convenience is one of the key attributes expected of any electronics collection program. In fact, multiple state programs are considering using it as a measure of how well a particular electronics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is meeting their responsibilities under extended producer responsibility legislation.
But what does it really mean to have a convenient program? In states that already measure program convenience, it for a given population. While this ensures plenty of sites, there has been little follow-up by governments to understand if these sites are actually considered convenient by users. Looking at what individuals self-report, location is important, but also is knowing that the program exists, where it's located, and what types of products will be accepted with or without a fee. Convenience becomes a marketing issue as well, not just a logistical one.
To further shed light on what convenience means, this topic was included in a recent research project at The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). I brought together a panel of experts to develop a definition of an ideal used electronics management program and identify the key attributes any program should be able to assess and communicate. The panel consisted of industry experts from a range of stakeholder groups, including government, NGOs, OEMs, and recyclers, who participated in a Delphi panel to develop this definition. Convenience definitely figured as a key attribute to programs, as defined by program scope (what products are accepted), accessibility (how many site were available and how easily were they reached), and cost (products should be accepted free of charge to the program user). Even while agreeing that convenience was important for an ideal program, they could not come to a set of measures that were appropriate and feasible to express this concept. If experts in the field couldn't provide a way to communicate convenience, it's no surprise program users are confused!
At the end of all of this, convenience really comes down to whether there is more benefit to you, the program user, than there is cost. This can be measured in distance or time or quality of information available, but the program must provide value to its user or no one will use it. My current research work at TSC focuses on the benefits individuals receive from recycling electronics and electrical equipment, and how we could increase recycling through education and financial or charitable incentives. Both of these factors should increase the benefit, and therefore the convenience, of electronics recycling. Hopefully, we will be able to shed a bit of light on how to make programs more convenient for the most important stakeholder – you.
Check your local and state government environmental departments for available programs
Searchable listings for electronics recycler options, include: