Study Shows Consumer Disinterest May Be Detrimental For E-waste

In a recent survey of 7,500 people, consumer electronics website Retrevo found that more than 60 percent of consumers do not recycle their used computers, printers, cell phones and TV sets.

In the Gadget Census, the most common excuse and possibly least defensible for not recycling was, “I just didn’t get around to it.” Photo: Wikimedia Commons

According to the Gadget Census Report, one in four people said they “didn’t get around to it” as a reason for not recycling, as first reported by USA Today. The report echoes a similar sentiment shared by major electronics manufacturers and retailers as they continue to see dismal recycling rates for free take-back programs.

“It’s easy for consumers to say that they don’t recycle because they don’t know about it, but if you just go on the Internet and search, you will see that most major carriers recycle,” Jenni Chun, associate manager of Sustainability for LG Electronics, told in July.

“It’s definitely tough to change behavior. Consumers are reminded about cell phone recycling when they see the bins in stores, but in reality their phones are still in drawers, closets or the garage.”

Inconvenience is one of the top reasons people don’t recycle, but a close second is lack of knowledge. In Retrevo’s study, 17 percent of respondents admitted that they simply didn’t know how to recycle their defunct electronics. Eleven percent of those surveyed cited lack of nearby programs as a barrier, while only 7 percent said they just didn’t care.

But the lack in recycling on the consumer front could soon create major global problems. According to Retrevo’s estimations based on a 2008 EPA report, by the end of 2010 there will be enough generated e-waste to cover the island of Manhattan in old electronics three feet deep.

“Factoring in data from this same EPA report, we project by the year 2020 there will be so many old, unused or broken computers, printers, cell phones and TVs, they could fill enough dump trucks to circle the earth twice,” the website reports.

Although Retrevo’s study painted a bleak picture of electronics recycling among consumers, lawmakers are still working to advance e-waste legislation in the U.S. In late September, Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010, an effort to stop U.S. “recyclers” from dumping electronic waste in developing countries.

The bill is supported by environmental groups as well as electronic manufacturers Apple, Dell and Samsung, all of which already have policies that prohibit the export of e-waste to developing nations.

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  1. Manufacturers and retailers need to step up to the plate. Big business always talks about increasing sales, which in turn makes them more money. Making money is fine. However, they need to start doing it more responsibly. Companies push the disposable mentality. After all, when you toss it you need to buy another. And that makes them money.

    Just putting a recycle bin in the front of your store does not make you a better company. You need to promote it, and recycling, in general. Maybe put reminders in all you print and internet adds. Sponsor local recycling programs. There are hundreds of things a company can do. Manufacturers could work on creating products that could be upgraded instead of replaced. Maybe even repaired.

    I believe it was Eart911 that had an article on a bank in Europe that actually did well when the financial industry tanked. The main reason, they did not compromise to make a quick buck(Euro). They made solid loans to companies that were conscious of the environment.

    Think and act “green” before there is no more green left.

  2. It’s frustrating. I’ve spent a few hours today searching the internet, I’ve posted the question on a couple of tech forums I haunt, all looking for a way to recycle or reuse my only half-dead printer. It’s an all-in-one that isn’t ‘reading’ the ink cartridge. The fax feature is fine, the scan feature is fine, but because the printer can’t read the cartridge, it won’t allow the machine to do anything at all. Seems irresponsible on the manufacturer’s part for starters. But I’m also frustrated about the really small number of organizations willing to take this thing from me, put it into working order, and donate or sell really inexpensively to a disadvantaged group or individual. I don’t know how to fix it myself, but I know someone must know how. Anything would be better than adding to that pile that will fill Manhattan three feet deep with electronics!

  3. I can only comment on the cell phone piece of the equation since I run If people knew the value of their used cell phones and how easy it is to recycle (resell) them, then the recycle rates for cell phones would go way up. In October we paid an average of $68 for each cell phone we purchased and purchased one model for $245. The EPA says only 10% of cell phones are recycled and over 150 million per year are purchased in the U.S. alone. That’s a lot of e-waste when people should sell them to get some extra cash and promote re-use.

  4. Hi Amanda,

    Great article yes most people seem to just hold onto the ewaste and it ends up
    being a storage problem after a while. Being a e-waste recycler myself people
    come to me with car loads pickup truck loads and even panel truck loads of things they have collected over the years people don’t seem to put them in the trash most just collect them and when they get new things they add to the collection.
    Most people I talk to are just not aware of e-waste recycling it is our job to make people more aware of the options for recycling. I have been struggling to get my business going and trying to find ways to get my advertising in front of more people.
    People spend lots of money on electronics and they don’t like to just toss them in the trash
    so there is still hope they can get them to ecycler.
    I get lots of people coming to my recycle center from earth 911 so we are getting the word out
    and every little bit helps. We have recycled over 15,000 pounds of electronics in the first few months of business at keep up the good work.
    Have a Ecycler day!

  5. We recently tried to find somewhere to take our old projector hd t.v. that was “pixelating” (picture breaking up). No one would fix it and no thrift store would take it. We found our recycling center here on earth911 to drop it off. Unfortunately, most folks would probably just toss it in the landfill.

  6. My family has started this thing called, ” Composting”. Its really interesting because all the peels of fruits and vegetables even rotten ones are turned into mud rather than being taken to the trash dump and taking up space. I think you guys should try it.

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