Once per quarter, TriplePundit invites leaders from key companies to guest write an article. The following is a non-sponsored posting from Chad Lander, Director, Device Quality Assurance & Reverse Logistics, Sprint. If you would like to participate, please contact us.
By Chad Lander
In many communities, curbside recycling bins have become a common sight on garbage day. Filled with plastic bottles, newspapers, aluminum cans and cardboard, our recycling bins have become part of our household. The U.S., however, has yet to develop a recycling solution as convenient for electronic waste (e-waste). While electronics recycling programs are becoming more visible to consumers in the form of bins at big box stores or local collection events, increasing the convenience of recycling shouldn’t be the sole strategy for addressing the e-waste problem. Much more of the solution depends on the active participation of companies within this industry to rethink their products and how they engage consumers.
According to the U.S. EPA, Americans generate approximately 2.5 million tons of e-waste each year and only 25 percent of that is recycled. That’s a problem considering select electronics contain environmentally sensitive materials that can pose health risks if not disposed of properly. To mitigate these risks, companies need to rethink their products, from design to manufacturing to reuse. Companies also need to continue to find new ways to incentivize consumers to buy refurbished products and dispose of e-waste responsibly.
Around the world, electronics companies are taking a greater interest in the full lifecycle of the products they make or sell. When you examine the full lifecycle of a product, you not only learn how its parts are manufactured and assembled, but also how it is dismantled at the end of its life. Knowing this information can increase opportunities to find more sustainable solutions, including pinpointing which screws can be replaced with a molded plastic cover that’s sturdy yet easy to disassemble, or which components can be configured differently to increase the recovery of recyclable materials. The closer we look, the more innovative we become. This leads to more sustainable design, making end-of-life solutions such as repair, remanufacturing, parts reclamation and recycling much easier and more economically feasible.
At Sprint, our environmental specifications and supplier scorecard help us guide manufacturers on the materials we accept in the products we sell and how we dispose of and reclaim materials when mobile devices are recycled. For example, we are working with our manufacturers upstream to significantly reduce environmentally sensitive materials such as polyvinyl chlorides, brominated flame retardants, phthalates and beryllium from our eco-friendly phones. By eliminating these materials upstream, we are mitigating potential hazards encountered downstream through recycling and reuse. Downstream, we are working with certified recyclers to ensure that our mobile devices are dismantled responsibly and not just sent to landfills.
We are also thinking of new ways to involve customers in e-waste solutions. Through our Reverse Logistics process, we look first for opportunities to service and remanufacture mobile devices to get them in proper working order. Additionally, our customers typically receive certified, pre-owned devices as replacements in our stores, which is a more cost-effective and environmentally responsible option. Pre-owned certified devices are also available for purchase on Sprint.com at a fraction of the cost of a new device. Both efforts help save customers money and reduce e-waste.
Companies can also grow access to refurbished products and reduce e-waste by finding new ways to collect e-waste. One company that has made great strides with its comprehensive approach to managing the lifecycle of computers is Dell. The company offers easy and convenient ways to drop-off products at more than 2,000 Goodwill locations across the U.S. Additionally, with its TechForward Buyback Plan, Dell offers customers instant cash back when they upgrade to a new computer and return their old model. Computers gathered through these two programs are either remanufactured and reused or disposed of responsibly by certified recyclers.
Through product innovation, working with suppliers throughout the supply chain, and using savvy strategies for engaging customers in reuse and recycling, electronics companies can significantly reduce the size of America’s growing e-waste footprint and mitigate potential risks it poses to the environment and the health of our communities.