At Costco™, you can buy Spam® in bulk, stock up on toilet paper, and… recycle your used electronics?
The bulk-sale superstore has adopted some new buzz words – “you get paid to be environmentally responsible” – and introduced a new program, powered by Gazelle.com, by which customers can trade in old gadgets in exchange for Costco™ cash. The list of recyclable items is long: cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, PDAs, laptops, GPS devices, gaming consoles, camcorders, and more. The website also provides information on where to recycle electronics Gazelle.com doesn’t accept online so that consumers can be rid of these items without flooding local landfills.
The process is simple: customers simply fill out an online form describing their item. Costco™ then makes an offer, provides a box, and even pays for shipping. Lastly, Costco™ reimburses the customer with a Costco™ cash card. The program is expected to attract customers and get them interested in recycling – two birds with one stone for a retailer not traditionally associated with environmentalism.
But despite its merits, the fact that this “re-commerce” operation is run by Costco™ – a chain similar, in some ways, to Wal-Mart – has me wondering: is this recycling system just a gimmick – the retail equivalent of greenwashing? After all, Costco™ has been criticized for its seafood policies and labeling, land procurement policies, and other practices. Are customers who believe they are participating in an eco-friendly program being duped?
There is probably not a simple answer to such a question. We are, after all, in dire economic and environmental straits, and it seems a step in the right direction is better than no step at all. Should consumers wait for the “perfect” electronics recycling provider, or accept the simplicity and convenience of a system that is already in place, accessible to many, and perhaps most importantly, effective at diverting landfill waste? You, the consumer, must decide.