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Recycling computers

Published on January 10th, 2009 | by Ariel Schwartz

16

The Truth About Electronics Companies and Recycling

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January 10th, 2009 by  

computers

With both the Consumer Electronics Show and MacWorld occurring this past week, I thought it was time to take a look at what happens to most fancy new electronics once they’re not so new and fancy anymore. The other day, I spoke to Barbara Kyle, the National Coordinator of the Electronic TakeBack Coalition about the state of electronics recycling in the US.

Which companies have the worst recycling programs?

Quite a few TV companies are doing exactly nothing, but Sony was the first TV company to launch a takeback program. LG and Samsung are the only other two with national programs. Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba own a recycling company together called MSM that was created to comply with state laws. They have said they’re planning on operating a national program, but they haven’t done that yet.

None of these companies have truly convenient programs for a consumer trying to figure out “what am I going to do with my TV?”  TV companies need to help retailers with this, because people usually buy TVs in retail stores. It’s a big stumbling block at this point.

What about computer companies?

Most people don’t do mailback, so companies that rely on it will never see significant numbers. Some companies are linked in with trade-in values or sell back policies, but the numbers still aren’t that significant.  You need to have a lot of visible options, and if you go to the homepage of almost any electronics company, you don’t find a link to a recycling program.

Do you see any major changes occurring in 2009?

A lot of states have passed laws mandating recycling programs, and some of these programs go online as of this year. More go online next year. But between states, some [laws] are more aggressive than others. Now companies are thinking about how to make money off this. We’re seeing more voluntary action because companies can’t afford not to— it looks bad to duck this in the year of digital conversion.

It’s currently pretty easy to recycle cell phones, right?

For cell phones, everyone upgrades every two years. People are turning over cell phones so quickly, and the hurdle of mailing them back isn’t that big. But the cell phone industry isn’t making an effort get back phones. Phones haven’t been covered by legislation because there are so many options out there— it’s just a marketing challenge.

The other piece of the puzzle is what are they doing with the phones once companies get them back? We want to see info on where toxic parts go, to what country. When companies aren’t willing to say that, it makes us suspicious. Electronics companies have a long way to go in proving that they are managing these waste streams in responsible ways.

Photo credit: CC licensed by Flickr user Samuel Mann

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • r4 card

    We need to stop this if we want to curtail global warming

  • r4 card

    We need to stop this if we want to curtail global warming

  • Anonymous

    Sorry for the Anonymous post but I work in the recycling field. The dirty little truth about recycling computers is that it would be far better for the environment if they were placed in a modern landfill.

    Recycling old computers is actually harmful to the environment.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry for the Anonymous post but I work in the recycling field. The dirty little truth about recycling computers is that it would be far better for the environment if they were placed in a modern landfill.

    Recycling old computers is actually harmful to the environment.

  • http://www.jjwirelessworld.com Jeffrey

    But they are not computers anymore why should they send them to Africa or China, just where the waste end up at, we have to find a safe alternative for them.

  • http://www.jjwirelessworld.com Jeffrey

    But they are not computers anymore why should they send them to Africa or China, just where the waste end up at, we have to find a safe alternative for them.

  • http://www.cyclechaos.com/4um/forumdisplay.php?f=41 Goldwing Guy

    send them to africa they could use those computers. it’d be better than the one laptop per child likely

  • http://www.cyclechaos.com/4um/forumdisplay.php?f=41 Goldwing Guy

    send them to africa they could use those computers. it’d be better than the one laptop per child likely

  • Sam Seow

    Same as in Singapore. People are chasing faster,better and newer, but after the reuse item just not idea to waste in the bin.I hope to work with the recycle company for help a bit on earth.

  • Sam Seow

    Same as in Singapore. People are chasing faster,better and newer, but after the reuse item just not idea to waste in the bin.I hope to work with the recycle company for help a bit on earth.

  • http://raident.blogspot.com Raident Technology by Natalia

    Tommy, in California we have to pay when we purchase the item so that manufacturer takes them back. However, sometimes people have to pay when returning items and companies don’t advertise it that much.

    That’s where collectors come into place that do this job of collecting and then sending material off to recyclers.

    I think there needs to be more recycling of the phones, but I guess people don’t pay much attention to them because they are small, just like batteries.

  • http://raident.blogspot.com Raident Technology by Natalia

    Tommy, in California we have to pay when we purchase the item so that manufacturer takes them back. However, sometimes people have to pay when returning items and companies don’t advertise it that much.

    That’s where collectors come into place that do this job of collecting and then sending material off to recyclers.

    I think there needs to be more recycling of the phones, but I guess people don’t pay much attention to them because they are small, just like batteries.

  • chrisp

    From what I’ve read in National Geographic, most of the electronics end up back in China polluting large towns and rivers.

  • chrisp

    From what I’ve read in National Geographic, most of the electronics end up back in China polluting large towns and rivers.

  • Tommy

    In Norway all companies that sell electronics are obligated to take them back. We pay a fee beforehand to pay for the return. You should too.

  • Tommy

    In Norway all companies that sell electronics are obligated to take them back. We pay a fee beforehand to pay for the return. You should too.

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