Your desk may look somewhat like mine. I have a laptop, a smartphone, an e-reader, a tablet, a few external hard drives, and a pile of assorted cables, battery chargers, and related accessories all within arm's length. Walk down the hall and you'll find another room filled with all sorts of consumer electronics devices.
One day, I may have to get rid of or replace a few of these devices, and I will want to get rid of them in a way that doesn't cause too much environmental harm. I'm happy to see I have more green options to do that than just a few years ago, and that the electronics supply chain seems better equipped today to handle this reverse logistics activity.
Over the last few years, reclaiming and recycling electronic waste has gotten a lot more attention. Many states and countries now require high-tech companies to have a take-back program, or some formal process by which finished consumer goods can be recovered at the end of their lives and not end up in landfills or along riverbanks in the developing world.
Many new businesses have sprouted up to take over the task of collecting and properly handling e-waste, lessening the burden that had been placed on OEMs. And, yes, many companies have embedded these kinds of green initiatives into their corporate sustainability operations, because increased consumer awareness has compelled a change, the law has forced them to do this or (gasp!) because they want to be good corporate citizens.
What I was surprised to see, though, was a really big effort being spearheaded by the Consumer Electronics Association called the eCycling Leadership Initiative and nicknamed the Billion Pound Challenge. Launched in April 2011 by the CEA and a dozen leading consumer electronics companies and supported by retailers, collectors, recyclers, non-governmental organizations, and all levels of government, the challenge lays down a call-to-action to start an “unprecedented national initiative” to recycle 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016.
The project stems from a two-fold problem that's hard to address under existing structures: A confusing patchwork of state regulations makes it difficult and costly for the electronics industry to efficiently recycle e-waste, and “a billion pounds of electronics not properly recycled would fill about 88.9 million cubic feet, equivalent to an entire 71,000-seat NFL stadium,” according to the CEA. The elephant in the room is: Who should be responsible for that gigantic amount of waste? I'm glad to see that the industry that seduces us with all these gadgets is also taking responsibility for reclaiming devices that have lost their luster.
“According to CEA research, the average U.S. household owns 25 different CE products,” said Walter Alcorn, CEA's vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability. “We want to make recycling electronics just as easy as purchasing electronics.”
And, good stuff is happening on that front. Earlier this spring, the CEA reported that the initiative has led to the recycling of 460 million pounds of consumer electronics, a 53 percent increase from the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010. Additionally, electronics manufacturers and retailers increased the number of recycling drop-off locations for consumers nationwide to nearly 7,500 from just over 5,000 a year ago.
You can find out more about the Billion Pound Challenge in this video:
If you're a manufacturer looking to do more green-focused gadget recycling, visit eCycleRegistration, a central online location where companies can register their brands under participating state e-cycling laws. It's run by the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC), a membership organization for states with e-cycling laws that was developed by the National Center for Electronics Recycling in collaboration with the Northeast Recycling Council.
If you have devices you want to get rid of, visit the Greener Gadgets site for recycling information. I know I will be a regular there.