Study Shows Consumer Disinterest May Be Detrimental For E-waste

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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 Earth911.com 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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