The Truth About Electronics Companies and Recycling

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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.

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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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