Earlier this year at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I attended the Keeping CE off the Curb SuperSession, moderated by Brian Taylor, editor in chief of Recycling Today. The panel addressed concerns that the CE industry might face mandatory recycling fees and new programs being implemented across the country. Over the hour-long session much was talked about, specifically on efforts the CE industry is making in recycling; and while we still have a long way to go, progress is happening.
Last October for example, Washington State adopted new dangerous waste regulations that impact the sale of and recycling of covered electronic products (CEPs) throughout the state, including computers, televisions, computer monitors and laptop computers. These new regulations should – at least in theory – make it easier for small businesses to turn in old equipment.
More importantly, several manufacturers, including Sony, have put programs in place to help consumers turn in old products. The panel was in agreement that the key to success is making products as easy for consumers to recycle as they are to purchase. Again a very welcome move for small home and small business users.
Alas, issues do remain. One key point debated by the panel at CES focused on how many high tech products don’t exactly have pre-determined shelf lives. Nor are all products created or worse recycled equally. Some devices, notably PCs, do find continued life in the secondary market, but other devices are only disposed of by consumers when they no longer work. For devices, including printers and scanners, yesterday’s technology is akin to yesterday’s trash. And that’s what it becomes. While these products fortunately are only disposed of when they are broken and have little to no value, these do all too often end up in landfills.
The reason is also clear. It simply costs more to recycle and to recover any usable parts from old devices than it takes to make new products. As long as this is the case it isn’t easy to be green, and it won’t get easier.
Even the one sector that the panel suggested has continued value, regardless of the age of the devices, is mobile phones. The recycling of mobile devices is very well established and should serve as a model for the rest of the CE industry. Jeff Zeigler, CEO of TechTurn, a company devoted to technology recovery, refurbishing and remarketing said, “Those systems for recycling work fantastically today. The wireless carrier, the retailer and the OEM all want your phone back.”
And for a while it seemed we were actually doing fairly well with our mobile phones. But a recent study from iSuppli’s ConsumerTrak service found that in the last quarter of 2007 only one in 10 US consumers actually recycled their mobile phone.
iSuppli reports that only about 5.7 percent of phones were returned to retail, and that more than a third of the handsets, 36.8 percent, were simply “stored away” and could just be “collecting dust in closets.” More disturbing was that 10.2 percent of US consumers surveyed admitted that the phones were simply discarded, either thrown away or stolen in Q4. The US Environmental Protection Agency actually estimates that Americans discard 125 million phones each year, creating 65,000 tons of waste.