Industry Market Trends

E-Waste Recycling Efforts Begin to Pile Up

Apr 27, 2011

As a rising number of consumers upgrade television sets, computers and mobile devices, electronics manufacturers are beginning to take a more active role in finding a home and/or proper disposal for these outmoded products. Some would argue that the electronics industry hasn't taken a proactive approach with regards to "e-waste" initiatives. While there is probably a lot of proof to substantiate these claims, no one can deny the recycling ambition set forth recently by the industry's biggest names. Best Buy, Sony, Toshiba and Dell for instance are all making tremendous strides with e-waste recycling efforts.

Let's start with the eCycling Leadership Initiative, recently launched by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). This effort aims to more than triple the amount of e-waste recycled each year. Executives from Best Buy, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba helped kick off this industry-wide initiative by setting a goal of recycling a staggering one billion pounds of electronics a year by 2016, a goal that far surpasses state-level recycling mandates. That's enough electronics to fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium, according to the CEA. Here's Walter Alcorn, CEA's vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability had to say in a recent article in Environmental Leader:

"This unique industry-led approach transcends the patchwork of current state recycling regulations with an aggressive set of industry goals and standards," said. "Through the eCycling Leadership Initiative, the consumer electronics industry is moving toward a national solution and away from the costly and confusing patchwork of state regulations."

It should be noted that the eCycling Leadership Initiative arrives in the wake of a New York State law that took effect earlier this month. In essence, the law attempts to make it easier for New York residents to recycle their old or broken electronic devices. While the sweeping outreach will begin immediately, "it may take awhile for that convenience to kick in," according to a recent article in The New York Times. Here's more from the Times:

Environmental advocates and New York City officials say that manufacturers have gotten off to a slow start educating the public and posting information on their Web sites about how consumers should proceed. The new law mandates that manufacturers pay for the collection, handling and recycling of electronic products to keep materials that may contain toxic metals like lead and mercury from going into the trash, and later into incinerators and landfills. While some major companies already take items back through collections and trade-in programs, the new law requires the makers of electronics to set up a permanent system of collections throughout the state.

Making it easier for consumers is a logical first step to ensure success with e-waste initiatives. More awareness, more drop-off locations and solid legislation to kick-start the whole movement is critical. As this first phase gains traction, additional sub-groups, committees and partnerships will begin to sprout up. A great example of this is "Reconnect", a partnership between Dell, Goodwill Industries International and Microsoft. Here's more from Dell's web site:

... in addition to collecting PCs and computer accessories, the 1,900-plus Goodwill locations participating in Reconnect will now for the first time collect Microsoft entertainment products including Xbox, Zune and accompanying accessories for free recycling. With its commitment and contributions to Reconnect, Microsoft joins Dell's efforts to make electronics recycling free and convenient for consumers.

"Electronics recycling needs more awareness and more industry participation," said Mike Watson, Senior Manager of Dell Global Recycling Services. "The Reconnect program exemplifies what sustainability practices can mean to our communities - extended life for technology and a successful life for our citizens. We're glad to have Microsoft's support."

What do you think? Is this simply good PR for manufacturers? Or is the e-waste recycling movement getting a serious boost?