Waste Not
Most Electronics Retailers Getting Failing Grade on Recycling Programs

Only three electronics retailers are making a serious effort to help consumers responsibly recycle their old electronic products, according to a new report card released Wednesday by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETB). The Coalition is calling on the other retailers to step up and do their part to make it as easy to recycle as it is to buy electronics from them.

Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot earned high marks on the report card, which graded the top 16 consumer electronics retailers’ recycling programs in the U.S. But more than half of the retailers flunked.

“Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot are leading the charge to meet consumers’ demand for recycling options, but there is a much bigger number of disappointing laggards who are selling us billions of dollars of electronics each year and doing nothing to help consumers recycle them later,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

Some retailers offer trade-in programs where consumers can get store gift cards equal to the value of their traded-in products, which they must ship back to the retailer. But the ETB, which promotes responsible recycling and green design of electronics, doesn’t view those as a substitute for recycling programs because most of the trade-in programs only take the smaller, higher-value items such as cell phones and tablets, not the larger, low-value items including televisions, printers and TV peripherals such as VCRs and DVD players. Also, most of the trade-in programs require consumers to ship their items; only Best Buy and Radio Shack allow people to drop trade-in items off at stores.

“Consumers want to drop off their old stuff at a physical location, like a store,” commented Kyle. “Most people just aren’t going to bother to box it up and ship it someplace unless it’s really small, like a cell phone. That’s why we’d like to see more of these retailers step up and be the front door for recycling programs, in partnership with the manufacturer take-back programs.”

The report card evaluated the 16 retailers’ programs against 20 criteria, including convenience, transparency, collection volumes and responsible recycling. Findings included:

  • Only three of the retailers (19%) have effective recycling programs, meaning they take back all or most of the 13 categories studied and offer physical collection sites.
  • Nine of the 16 retailers got Fs (56%), because they either have no recycling program or they take back only one item.
  • While all 16 retailers sell TVs, only two (12%) — Best Buy and Micro Center — take them back for recycling at their stores. Yet TVs are the items for which consumers have the most difficulty finding recycling options and will never mail back.
  • Nine retailers offer trade-in programs, but only two of them — Best Buy and Radio Shack — let you bring trade-in items back to their stores. The others require consumers to ship their old products back to the trade-in vendor for credit.
  • Six of the 16 (37%) retailers are using certified e-Stewards for their recycling or trade-in recyclers. The e-Steward standard is the highest in the industry and does not allow vendors to export toxic e-waste to developing countries.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a U.S. coalition of environmental and consumer groups who promote responsible recycling and sustainable design for electronics.

More and more organizations outside the retail sector are also doing their part to eliminate e-waste: Dell has partnered with Goodwill on its Reconnect program, which takes used computer equipment of any brand, in any condition, and puts it back to good use or recycles it responsibly for free Sustainable Brands Innovation Open finalist Isidore Electronics Recycling, a Los Angeles-based start-up, is not only dedicated to diverting e-waste from local landfills, it also creates jobs and reduces recidivism rates in LA by hiring formerly incarcerated Angelenos as employees.

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