Amazon Joins the eWaste Trade-In Movement

Last week, Amazon joined the array of companies that offer an electronic trade-in program. To trade in an electronic device, a customer can click a “trade-in” button on Amazon.com, then print out a pre-paid shipping label in order to ship the device to Amazon for free. After Amazon receives the device, the customer receives credit for future Amazon purchases. Trade-ins are currently offered for 2,550 electronic devices, including cell phones, tablet computers, MP3 players, and cameras.

“Technology is constantly evolving and newer, better versions of consumer electronics are introduced all the time,” said Paul Ryder, vice president of Electronics for Amazon.com. “We want to give customers the opportunity to get great value from their used electronics. Hundreds of thousands of customers have already received millions of dollars in gift cards from the other products in our program. The Electronics category is a natural extension and we are delighted to offer our customers more trade-in options.”

T-mobile also announced a trade-in program last week. T-Mobile’s trade-In program allows its customers to trade in old cell phones for money which they can use to buy new cell phones, including smartphones. The program allows customers to “offset the cost of a  new phone purchase by up to $300,” according to a press release. T-mobile will even accept cell phones from other cell phone carriers.

E-waste is a growing problem

Electronic trade-in programs are important because electronic devices contain hazardous chemicals. When electronic waste (e-waste) is dumped into a landfill the hazardous chemicals can leach into the soil, and be released into the air. If e-waste is incinerated heavy metals like lead and mercury are released into the air.
Trade-ins also represent a huge opportunity. It’s a lot easier to mine old cell phones for raw materials than it is to dig for them.

The Electronics Take Back Coalition calls e-waste the “fastest growing waste stream in the U.S.” In 1998 only 2.3 million of the 20 million computers no longer functioning were recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and most computers recycled were from large businesses and institutions. A 2006 report by the International Association of Electronics Recyclers states that there are 400 million units of e-waste a year. Over three billion tons of e-waste was disposed in 2008 in the U.S. and only 430,000 tons or 13.6 percent recycled, according to the Electronics Take Back Coalition.

The dark side of e-waste recycling

Trade-in programs are great, but the fact remains that some e-waste is exported to developing countries – sometimes, according to Greenpeace, against international law. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of the e-waste collected to be recycled is exported to developing countries, Greenpeace claims. Although against international law, the U.S. did not ratify the Basel Convention, so it is legal in the U.S. The Basil Convention is the “most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes,” as defined by the Convention’s website.

Electronics Take Back Coalition only endorses “take-back” programs that use recyclers certified by e-Stewards, which does not allow e-waste to be exported to developing countries. Amazon does not state on either its website or the press release issued about its trade-in program if the company uses e-Stewards certified recyclers.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.