The U.S. consumer electronics industry set a new record for electronic waste recycling in 2013, according to a new report. Electronics manufacturers and retailers collected and recycled more than 620 million pounds of e-waste across the country last year – more than double the amount of electronics they recycled three years ago.
The Third Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative was published in late April by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the technology trade association that represents the U.S. consumer electronics industry and hosts the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The CEA launched the eCycling Leadership Initiative in 2011 as an industry-led effort to bolster consumer awareness of e-waste recycling, improve e-cycling infrastructure and increase e-waste collection, with the goal of recycling 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016 – enough e-waste to fill a 71,000 seat NFL stadium.
Made up of electronics manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, nonprofits and government agencies, the program represents the consumer electronic industry’s move towards extended producer responsibility: a model of product stewardship that requires the manufacturer of a product to take responsibility for the environmental and social impacts of its product throughout the product’s lifecycle – from sourcing the material and production to consumer use and disposal.
Since the eCycling Leadership Initiative’s inception three years ago, the amount of e-waste collected by electronics manufacturers and retailers like Dell and Best Buy has significantly increased, the report revealed: from 300 million pounds in 2011 and 585 million pounds in 2012 to last year’s statistic of 620 million pounds. More than 99 percent of this e-waste was processed by third-party certified “responsible recyclers,” the report stated.
The report also found that Americans now have access to more than 8,000 e-waste collection locations, including retail stores, government-run facilities and nonprofit programs. This number does not include the thousands of additional drop-off sites for mobile devices in retail stores and through mobile carriers like Sprint, the report said. The CEA estimates that the number of collection centers for larger consumer electronics has grown from 5,000 in 2010 to 8,000 today.
CEA recognized Apple, Best Buy, Dell and DIRECTV as “Initiative Leaders” for each exceeding the CEA’s 2013 consumer hardware recycling goals by more than 125 percent, while acknowledging Acer, HP, Samsung, LG and Sony as “Initiative Performers” for surpassing the CEA goals by between 100 and 125 percent.
The report also reflected on current and future challenges facing e-cycling, including the electronics industry’s replacement of cathode ray tube (CRT) glass in televisions and computer monitors with LCD, LED and plasma displays. Because the industry is no longer making new products with CRT technology, manufacturers do not need old CRT glass to recycle into new products, and recyclers can’t find markets for the CRT glass they collect. To tackle this issue, CEA partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund in 2012 and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in 2013 on two CRT Challenges, competitions that sought proposals for new financially viable and environmentally responsible uses for old CRT glass.
The eCycling Leadership Initiative has a long way to go in reaching its “Billion Pound E-Waste Challenge,” especially, as the report noted, when the electronics industry is increasingly making products with reduced weights – a trend that will, no doubt, bring down the initiative’s collection numbers. But it is encouraging to see an industry come together to take responsibility for its products — to relieve local governments and taxpayers of disposal costs, harmonize collection infrastructure across the country and, ultimately – hopefully – make less toxic, more environmentally-friendly products in the first place.
“We want to make recycling electronics as easy as purchasing electronics,” said CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. “Electronics recycling is a national issue, and CEA continues to work toward a national solution to replace the complicated patchwork of rules that varies from state to state.”
You can read the eCycling Leadership Initiative’s four-page report here.
Image credit: Flickr/U.S. Army Environmental Command
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru