What aren’t you recycling?

While the average American consumer buys the lion’s share of the new electronics products market, they aren’t recycling in the same numbers.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cites the Consumer Electronics Association’s April 2008 study, Market Research Report: Trends in CE Reuse, Recycle and Removal, that Americans now own approximately 24 electronic products per household.

“I would say that businesses and governmental bodies are recycling their electronics,” said says Joe Clayton of Synergy Recycling. Clayton is Chair of the Electronics Division of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and is on ISRI’s Leadership Committee. “It is the residential market that is lagging behind.”

The International Data Corporation’s 2011 study on the American electronics recycling industry reaches the same conclusion – residential electronics recycling only accounted for 25.8% of electronics recycling in the U.S., the study reports.

The EPA doesn’t think all electronics that aren’t being recycled are being landfilled. Five million short tons of products were in storage in 2009, with CRTs (monitors & TVs) being stored at the highest rates, the government estimates. Residential households store 5 times more computer products (by weight) than commercial establishments.

“Nearly everyone has at least one TV they’re storing, working or not,” says Clayton. “They have a backup TV in case one breaks, or they save their old cell phone in case the new one goes wrong.” Or, they may not know what to do with those old batteries and phones and laptops, but they know that throwing it in the garbage would be wrong.

Recycling, Clayton says, is extremely important, especially for electronics.

“Let’s say we live in a world where there is no recycling,” says Clayton. “Then we have larger mines digging for limited recourse, we have larger coal mines to provide energy, we need more oil and gas to move ships to carry these increased needs for natural resources.”

Recycling simple items, like aluminum and plastic beverage containers, can go a long way to reducing the impact people have on the environment, he said. But recycling complex products like electronics and appliances can do even more.

“Computers are an amalgam of steel, aluminum, precious metals, plastics, and glass but also some hazardous substances,” says Clayton. “Properly recycling this equipment reduces the likelihood of these substances being released in the environment.”

Many states are now banning electronics from their landfills, a ban that is in place for private residents, public bodies like governments and schools, and industry and business concerns. These bans started with televisions and have expanded to include mobile devices, computers, mobile phones, and other electronic products that have circuit boards. In some areas, like Europe and the province of British Columbia in Canada, these recycling requirements now extend to nearly every product that requires a battery or plug to operate.

Making sure our electronics don’t wind up in landfills in the first place can go a long way toward solving the end-of-life electronics problem. Next week, we’ll look at the actual recycling of electronics and how landfill bans are saving the Earth and boosting the economy.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this wonderful blog. Keep up the good work!


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