Electronics Recycling: Getting Closer to 1 Billion Pounds Annually

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Participants in the eCycling Leadership Initiative recycled 585 million pounds of consumer electronics in 2012, a 27 percent increase over 2011. Photo: Shutterstock

Participants in the eCycling Leadership Initiative recycled 585 million pounds of consumer electronics in 2012, a 27 percent increase over 2011. Photo: Shutterstock

With the Consumer Electronics Show coming up next week, it seems like a good time to check in on the Consumer Electronics Association’s e-waste recycling effort.

The organization’s nationwide eCycling Leadership Initiative made headlines in April 2011 when top names like Apple, Best Buy and Samsung signed on and pledged to increase electronics recycling to 1 billion pounds annually by 2016.

So, how are things going more than two years later, and where is electronics recycling headed? Earth911 sat down with Walter Alcorn, VP of environmental policy, environmental affairs and industry sustainability at CEA, to find out the answers.

Where We Are Now

Recycling 1 billion pounds of electronics annually is surely a lofty goal, but it seems industry partners are well on their way.

Participants in the initiative recycled 585 million pounds of consumer electronics in 2012, the most recent eCycling data available, a 27 percent increase over 2011 and more than halfway toward the 2016 target.

Manufacturers and retailers also increased the number of recycling drop-off locations to more than 8,000 last year, up from just over 5,000 two years ago.

What’s driving the rapid uptick in recycling? Alcorn said it’s all about getting the word out that these programs actually exist, which is already happening across the country thanks to both awareness campaigns and word of mouth.

“A lot of it is education,” he says. “It’s not just awareness of recycling opportunities, but an education on basically the value of recycling as opposed to disposal.”

According to a 2012 CEA survey, 63 percent of respondents said they knew where they could recycle consumer electronics in their neighborhoods, up from 58 percent in 2010.

Of course, as we’ve seen in the past, awareness is only one piece of the puzzle. Just because consumers know they can recycle e-waste locally doesn’t mean they’ll round up old electronics and take them to a drop-off center. But as electronics shift to smaller, lighter models, Alcorn predicts more and more Americans will finally purge those old, bulkier items.

“Consumer electronics from a location standpoint has moved from being furniture that sits on the floor to something that hangs on the wall,” he says. “I think people are slowly moving out the old equipment and freeing up space to use for other things.”

Trends and Projections

E-waste recycling is decidedly on the rise — a trend Alcorn doesn’t expect to end anytime soon. While he called the 1 billion pound target a “stretch goal,” the eCycling guru said CEA and its partners have a good shot at meeting the figure by 2016.

“I expect to see continued growth in existing collection locations as consumers become more aware of it and it becomes more of a habit,” he tells Earth911. “In addition to that, there are also additional collection locations coming online. I don’t have new numbers for 2013, but I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to show growth there.”

Recycling numbers for 2013 and additional projections will be available in the next annual report on the initiative, which is expected in Spring 2014.

If you’re headed to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, be sure to check out the panel on the future of electronics recycling, taking place Thursday, Jan. 9.

You can learn more about recycling electronics responsibly with Project Reboot, a joint initiative from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and Earth911.

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni