How Much eWaste Is Getting Recycled from Major Retailers?

broken television photo

Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch

CNET's Candace Lombardi did some great leg work in trying to round up some numbers for big retailers and manufacturers on electronic recycling rates. Check out the numbers, and the bigger question the search begs. Yesterday Office Depot crowed about recycling 1.5 million pounds of tech waste last year through their in-store recycling program, noting that it proves their program works.

According to Intechra, one of the largest tech recyclers in the U.S., the most common technology items accepted through Office Depot’s Tech Recycling Service during 2008 included: printers (more than 12,000 were collected); computers (approximately 6,000 were collected); PC monitors (more than 6,000 recycled); and telephones (about 2,500 collected).

That really is a significant number - nothing to scoff at. And it got Lombardi interested in other companies' stats. She found:

Between May and December 2007, Staples had recycled 2 million pounds of ewaste, including almost 24 million printer cartridges in the U.S.

Between 1987 and 200, HP had recycled more than 1 billion pounds of electronics and printer cartridges and expanded to include consumer programs in 50 countries.

During 2007, Apple collected about "21 million pounds of e-waste," according to the company's 2008 environmental report.

Between 2006 and 2008, Dell recycled about 255 million pounds of its own products.

Between 1995 (when it began keeping track) and the end of 2007, IBM "collected and recovered (resold, refurbished, or recycled)" more than 1.5 billion pounds of product and product waste worldwide.

All of these are really big numbers, deserving of at least some accolades. Even today, Staples announced it was given the Prominent Environmental Leadership Award from the National Recycling Coalition "for its broad-reaching efforts to promote recycling and waste reduction among its customers and throughout its operations."

But it makes us have to wonder...what percentage of the total output is being recycled? Of all those gadgets, computers, televisions, cameras, ink cartridges...of everything that gets spit out of electronics manufacturing plants on a daily basis, how much is being thrown away and how much is really getting recycled, and not just collected and sent to e-waste dump sites?

According to Lombardi's, there is no standard way for companies to report their recycling. Add to that the independent take-back programs that collect and recycle e-waste. So pinning down numbers can be like herding cats. The bright side is that companies are continually expanding recycling programs in order to keep atop the green wave that gives them a good name in the market place. But that doesn't mean much when we read something like how the Electronics TakeBack Coalition is unable to give even one television manufacturer an "A" for their take-back program.

It's difficult to dis any company that is doing at least some recycling, but it's also difficult to give them snaps when we don't have a clear idea of how their recycling efforts measure up to their total impact. Those are numbers we'll have to dig through landfills to find.

More on eWaste
How and Where to Recycle All of Your Gadgets
ETech 2009: Make Making Stuff Clear, So We Can Unmake It Better
Electronics TakeBack Coalition Grades TV Makers on Recycling

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