How to Make E-waste Processing Easier in the US

Goodwill.jpgImagine you have a TV that is no longer seeing service in your home. Or a computer. Or a monitor. You know that tossing it in the garbage is a big no no. Where do you take it? More than likely, if you’re in the US, to Goodwill. Or if you’re really progressive, you make a little money by going through Second Rotation or Tech Forward. A fine step forward, for sure. But what happens to donations to your local Goodwill?
Depending on where it is, a number of things: If it’s functional, it may get resold. If it’s not, it could get recycled. Or “demanufactured,” that is, disassembled and the parts sold to vendors who can use them to create new machines. Or in some cases, especially with old CRT televisions, consumers don’t have options via their local waste management company or charitable organizations, and it ends up dumped. Goodwill, which makes a point to recycle them, generally has to pay per pound for the right to do so. 17 cents in the case of Austin, Texas, apparently one of the lower fees in the US.
Now do the math: Each television is at least 30 pounds. Austin processes a truckload worth each month. 48 pallets. And in 2009, with the plug being pulled on non HD TV signals, there will be millions of televisions rendered useless, unless people make the effort to buy a signal converter. And where will those go? You guessed it…

That is a lot of money being spent by an organization that as you can imagine doesn’t have the largest coffers to spend on such things. According to Goodwill, that works out to an average of $20,000 (and up to $200,000) per store spent on this processing. As of 2005, Goodwill processed 27 million pounds of e-waste. That figure can only have increased, due to the continuing proliferation of short lived, quickly outdated electronics.
This takes away from their main goals, to offer free job training to various populations in the local community. According to the Goodwill site, every 53 seconds of a business day, they place someone in a job.
What can you do? A lot. Right now there is a patchwork of efforts to address and process e-waste, and this page gives you a quick tool, ala, to help push for a national standard to augment and unify what is done on a national level. It allows you to quickly contact your Senators and Congressional reps to let them know you’d like this to happen, and to lift the financial burden that non profits such as Goodwill currently have to bear.
You can contact electronics manufacturers and encourage them to build products with easier reuse, demanufacturing and recycling in mind. For instance, a universal cell phone charger, rather than proprietary designs for each company. Point them to the great example Sony is providing with their Take Back program, a nationwide network of locations that will take their products back to properly dispose of them.
If you’re in California, contact Representative Mike Thompson, who has been the most active proponent of fair e-waste handling, and has “placemark” legislation at the ready, which needs further developing.
And finally, consider donating something else entirely to your local Goodwill. Money.
Readers: What’s happening in your local community to facilitate easier e waste processing? What are some other great options you know of to process TVs and other e-waste?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see

10 responses

  1. Hi Paul – Thos from Second Rotation here.
    Thanks for the mention in this insightful post. There is indeed so much we can all do to help turn the tide of ewaste. We’re working on some projects now to extend the easy, practical solution we’ve developed for regular consumers so that manufacturers and businesses can participate in the solution as well.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. “is a big no no” …. One of the problems is that most people have no idea this is a no-no, and they really don’t care to tell you the truth. I think the weight has to be on manufacturers to build disassembly into the devices they sell.

  3. All great comments. Thos, thanks for creating a company that greatly simplifies and monetizes the process of e-cycling.
    Erich, I spoke to a Goodwill rep from Texas, they very much want to do it, part of their mission is to find new use for or effectively recycle/dispose of what they cannot, and that goes far beyond e-waste. They just want systems in place so that the service they provide isn’t entirely shouldered by them.
    Rutton, good question, that’s who the Goodwill person mentioned. Perhaps this person? I’ll ask. Check back.
    Dawn, I’m right with you, and increasingly in places other then the US, that’s the case. But in terms of the consumers, I think that it’s those people who, being nudged a bit by the rising mainstream green consiousness, would first think of Goodwill as where to take such things as these.

  4. Thank you for the great coverage of Goodwill agencies Paul. It might not be obvious, but all Goodwill agencies are autonomous from each other, although we are all affiliated through Goodwill International. We all face different opportunities with e-waste, depending on local/state regulations and the maturity of recycling markets.
    At Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties, we are fortunate to have excellent electronics recycling partners and nothing goes to the landfill. California legislation, SB20 (which reimburses recyclers for computer monitors, TV and any other device with a screen), provides California Goodwill agencies with an economic incentive to recycle. In addition, Goodwill San Francisco and 23 other Goodwill agencies across the country are part of the Reconnect-Dell Alliance. Dell provides an international down stream audit of the recycler we use for computers. Goodwill San Francisco insists on the same standards with our television and electronics recyclers.
    Kim Fox
    Director of Environmental Business
    Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties

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