Thursday, December 5, 2013

US e-Waste: Review of Recycling and Other Efforts

In 2013 e-waste management efforts in the US continued in earnest, however, there is a big discrepancy between the leaders and the laggards. While we are seeing ongoing adoption of accreditation standards like R2 and e-Stewards, these are far from being universally accepted.  Nonetheless, a June 2013 report from the U.S. EPA titled "Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2011 Facts and Figures," (PDF) shows that the US is generating more e-waste but is also recycling more of it.

A July 2013 Recycling Today story suggests that increases in recycling are attributable to an increasingly favorable market for plastics and electronic recycling. They attribute this to a variety of factors including increased enforcement of Chinese scrap metal import specifications and domestic green initiatives.

In 2011, the Obama administration launched a national strategy to encourage better e-waste management. Overall companies are responding with a consorted effort to encourage certified electronics recycling. Dell, Sony, and Sprint have all joined an industry partnership with the EPA to promote environmentally sound management of electronicsincluding recycling. The CEOs of Dell and Sprint have signed a voluntary commitment with the EPA to promote a U.S.-based electronics recycling market.

Under the EPA strategy called the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship (PDF), the federal government’s purchasing arm will only buy IT products that comply with environmental performance standards, it will also ensure that all government electronics are reused or recycled properly. Under the strategy, the federal government is committed to promote the development of more efficient and sustainable electronic products; Support recycling options and systems for American consumers; and Strengthen America’s role in the international electronics stewardship arena.

Some criticized the strategy for its failure to prevent e-waste exporting. However,  the concern that most of the US' electronic waste is simply being exported to foreign shores is refuted by an investigation by  the United States International Trade Commission. Their February 2013 report, Used Electronic Products: An Examination of U.S. Exports“, found that only about 20 percent of exported electronics waste was winding up in foreign landfills. The e-Steward standard does not allow vendors to export toxic e-waste to developing countries.

One of the leading mobile phone and tablet buyback companies is e-Cycle LLC. They received two Global Business Excellence Awards for Outstanding Green Initiatives and Outstanding Service. They have been widely recognized for their commitment to protecting the environment and delivering high-quality services to businesses, organizations and consumers. In August, 2013, e-Cycle went issued a challenge to other companies asking them to stop illegal dumping in developing countries.

In October 2013, Samsung, Best Buy, Dell, HP Samsung received the inaugural eCycling Leadership Award from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) for leading recycling efforts in the electronics. For more information click here.

As reported in a November, 2013, Environmental Leader article, Sprint recycles or reuses 44 percent of its total 2012 smartphone sales. Verizon recycles or reuses 28 percent of all devices (not just smartphones) and AT&T recycles 11.5 percent of total smartphone sales.

There are some new or improved technologies in electronics recycling that are also helping, they include hard drive degausers, Eco ATM kiosks and hydrometallurgical precious metals refining. 

According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot are making a serious effort to help consumers recycle their old electronic products. However, more than half of the 16 retailers assessed received failing grades, including retail giants Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club and Sears. The report found that TVs are the hardest items for consumers to recycle. While 9 retailers offer trade-in programs, only two of them (Best Buy and Radio Shack) let you bring trade-in items back to their stores. The others require consumers to ship their old products back to the trade-in vendor for credit. Six of the 16 (37 percent) retailers are using certified e-Stewards for their recycling or trade-in.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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Greenpeace e-Waste Investigation (Video)
The Problems and Solutions of e-Waste (Video)
US e-waste is Polluting Toxic Dumps in Ghana (Video)
The US Desire to be "Green" is Causing an e-Waste Hell China (Video)
AT&T's Record Breaking Recycling for Wireless Devices
Sprint's Industry Leading Cell Phone Recycling
Samsung Sustainability Journey
LG's Recycling Leadership
HP's Sustainable Innovation
Steve Jobs: Apple's Product Recycling Efforts

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