Spring cleaning your personal electronics stockpile

With warmer weather approaching, the annual spring cleaning of American homes is about to begin. This year, instead of dusting around that old TV set that’s doubling as an end stand or moving your cache of unwanted cell phones to another drawer, seek out an R2-certified electronics recycler to handle your personal recyclables stockpile.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the American public has something along the order of 70.5 million computers in storage; they’re joined by 40.2 million computer displays and 105 million TV sets. That adds up to tons upon tons of electronic devices – and we haven’t even considered the 57.8 million mobile devices the EPA estimated in its baseline report.

What would happen if every household in America decided to recycle just one of the old TV sets or mobile phones that are laying about their house? The report probably understates the true volume of electronics stored in the home, says Robin Ingenthorn, owner of Good Point Recycling in Vermont, especially when looking at the households with 20 or more devices lying about.

“These ‘E-waste hoarders’ had a huge impact on companies like mine when recycling became free and widows started delivering massive truckloads out of garages.”
While recycling old electronic devices should be as automatic as separating cans and plastics, electronics, for many areas of the country, can pose a challenge in recycling properly. Some states, with sparser populations, may not have the strong collection networks that larger states boast. In addition, recycling is more ingrained in some states and cities than in others – in Columbus, Ohio, the landfill authority reported 16,444 tons of household waste was recycled, compared to 1.1 million tons landfilled;
Now, compare that to an area like San Francisco, where 72 percent of the waste stream is recycled. Residents in recycle-friendly states are more likely to go the extra step and recycle electronics if they are already accustomed to sorting cans and bottles.

This spring, clear out the clutter, dust the blinds, and recycle that old TV and cellphone cache with an R2/RIOS certified recycler. For more information on electronics recycling and R2 certification, click here.

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A bottle bill, but no PC bill

“Bottle Bills” have been on the books in Massachusetts and Iowa for years. Everyone in America who’s purchased a drink in a plastic or glass container in recent decades is familiar with the 5- or 10- cent deposit paid on each bottle or can. This small fee is returned to the consumer to help insure the container is brought back to collection centers for recycling.

These programs cut down on litter and reduce solid waste in the states’ landfills. The Container Recycling Institute, which advocates for the expansion of container recycling in the U.S., reports a beverage container recovery rate of 85 percent in 2012.

“There are over 40 container deposit systems in place around the world and, for the past four decades, these systems have consistently achieved superior recycling rates,” Susan Collins, President of the Container Recycling Institute, said in a published report on the organization’s web site.

“CRI has found that these other systems have excellent litter reduction and outstanding environmental performance compared to all other forms of recycling. CRI has also seen that the high quality and high quantities of recyclables support manufacturing jobs in the aluminum, plastic, and glass industries. Those same recycling benefits could be realized here in the U.S. and help create higher employment rates, which CRI would like to see grow in Vermont.”
Consumers aren’t really getting free money when they take carefully hoarded cans and bottles to collection points – it’s money they’ve already spent without thinking about it, added at the time of purchase.

What’s interesting about Iowa and Massachusetts is they are the only two states in the U.S. that have bottle bills – but no Extended Producer Responsibility laws for electronics.

Would a similar get-paid-to-recycle bait and switch work in states that have bottle bills, but no electronics recycling laws? In many states with electronics recycling laws, consumers pay a fee at the time of purchase of new electronics to subsidize recycling of obsolete equipment. In non-Extended Producer Responsibility states, consumers often have to pay a fee to recycle TVs and computers.

But what about a refundable deposit on electronics? Something that the consumers pay up front, and then get back when they bring recyclable materials to collection points?

This system may not work well for large items with extensive use lives – things like TV sets, computer monitors that last for years – but for smaller items like mobile phones, which many people keep for two years or less – or tablet PCs and laptops.

While a deposit-return system may not be practical for electronics, Californians pay an Advanced Recycling Fee at the time of purchase for many different types of electronic products. The state has one of the strongest electronics recycling infrastructures in the nation – and it might be due, in part, to residents wanting to get the recycling service they’re paying for at the time of purchase. Such fees serve a double purpose – they make consumers aware of the costs of recycling their old products, and they help to support and develop an industry where capricious commodity pricing and dwindling end markets for CRT glass make profitable electronics recycling challenging for recyclers.

Consumers plagued by ‘Green Guilt’

Battery and mobile phone recycler Call2Recycle has released a new survey of the unused electronics stockpiling habits of American consumers.

The survey reports that more than half of those questioned (57 percent) say they have old electronics that they need to dispose of or discard. Mobile phones made up the largest portion of the items being stored, with 46 percent of people saying they had unused units in their homes. Of the respondents, 33 percent said they had computers being stored in their homes, 25 percent had old TV sets, 19 percent had cordless phones and 17 percent had rechargeable batteries.

These figures are in line with other studies that have found American consumers are not recycling their electronics at the same rates as their business and institutional counterparts.

The survey also reported that Americans believe end-of-life management costs should be shared among manufacturers, retailers, consumers and dedicated recycling programs or organizations.

“When asked about extended producer responsibility, more than half (52 percent) of Americans say they believe that manufacturers should bear the cost of recycling their product after consumers are finished with it. But, they’re almost equally split about their willingness to pay more for an item if a manufacturer took care of its proper disposal – 38 percent (notably more men than women) say yes, while 39 percent say no,” Call2Recycle reported.

The online survey was conducted by Toluna PLC and assessed 1,041 adults over 18. Interviews were conducted from April 6-9, 2012. The full survey results are available upon request, Call2Recycle says.