Changing the perception of electronics recycling

Despite more than half of the country’s population living in areas where recycling of unwanted electronics is the mandatory form of disposal, recycling rates of residential electronic scrap remain low. The last EPA estimates – from 2008 – guess the average American home has 26 electronic devices in use at any one time. That doesn’t count the millions of unwanted devices stored in kitchen drawers, basements, attics and garages.
What are the greatest hindrances to increasing residential collection of e-scrap? Lack of access to recycling programs – or perceived lack of access – is a significant factor.
Barbara Jorgensen, Community Editor for EBN, a publication for the electronics industry supply chain, posted an article recently about her personal experience with trying to recycle electronics.
In the article, “E-Waste: Not Easy at All,” the author recounts difficulty she experiences coming to grips with the recycling option she found in her local retail store: “I want to get rid of a TV set — a heavy, 35-inch CRT monster — along with a few old printers and monitors. I figured there must be some kind of credit or incentive for lugging my junk to a retail store, but, as it turns out, there’s not.”
She recounts the different rules the store has for recycling of different types of equipment, and notes some of them carry recycling fees. Her biography states she lives in the Boston area. In the article she notes that, rather than recycle her electronics right now, she’ll wait for the next free collection day she can make it to that is sponsored by her local government.
That scenario is repeated across the country in states where consumer-friendly Extended Producer Responsibility laws for electronics are not in place. Such laws generally have some system set up so there is no cost to the consumer at the time of recycling for proper disposal of unwanted electronics.
The article also shows a lingering sentiment in the American psyche that we should be paid for our unwanted electronics, like we’re paid for our recyclable metal and in some states, drink containers. People object to having to pay for having large electronics recycled – perhaps the thought is that these materials, after all, were much more expensive than beverages when they were purchased, and, therefore, should retain more value than water bottles or soda cans when its useful life is through.
However, there’s a reason most electronics recycling companies are based in states where EPR laws – and the mandatory funding of recycling such laws entail – are on the books. Most electronics recyclers will tell you that it’s much easier to establish a new electronics recycling business in areas where governments have set up financial incentives to recycle e-scrap. Also, not all e-scrap commodities are created equal. For example, to a recycler, there are much stronger markets for shredded circuit boards than there are for CRT television sets or computer monitors. Anecdotally, CRTs are the number one electronic product, by weight, collected at community recycling days.
Massachusetts does not currently have EPR laws in place for electronics recycling. Perhaps, to help consumers over the perceived difficulty of electronics recycling, the state should join the 20+ states in the U.S. that have some form of electronic recycling mandate on the books.

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