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According to a new study by Pike Research, 76% of consumers are aware that one of the primary components for reducing e-waste is proper recycling. Rejoice! 76% of consumers can see the obvious!! Now the only trick to getting more of those consumers - indeed everyone - to act on recycling and being sticklers about ethical recycling methods by collectors and recyclers, is to figure out who foots the bill, because 37% of those consumers also think e-cycling should be a free service. And interestingly enough, not everyone thinks it's the manufacturers who should be responsible for the costs. Many people argue that it is the manufacturer's responsibility to see their product from cradle to grave/cradle. In fact, New York City has even instituted a law stating manufacturers have to provide a free door-to-door pick-up of old electronics to ensure they're recycled - a law being combated by the consumer electronics industry right now. However, according to the study, only 10% of consumers agree that manufacturers need to front the cost of e-cycling. And, in a slightly more expected response, and only 14% thought the cost of free e-waste recycling should be built-in as part of the purchase price of new electronics.
CNET reports, "The study results are a bit surprising because many companies offer rebates on new items in exchange for recycled goods, implying that there is already an e-waste recycle tax built into the price of products. There are also many company-sponsored recycling programs. If you go by the statistics in their sustainability reports, the biggest producers and sellers of electronics also do recycle a relatively large amount of consumer e-waste."
True - consumer electronics companies are stepping up in making their recycling programs more robust. Most notably might be Dell, a company that prides itself on its recycling programs and continues to build partnerships with Goodwill stores across the country for electronics collection and resell/recycling. However, there are also big problems with people simply leaving televisions and other devices on the street corner for pickup because they don't want to pay the fees - upwards of as much as $25 - to drop off the devices at recycling centers.
While the cheapest way to get around e-cycling is to simply quit buying new gadgets we don't really need, most consumers are, well, consumers, which means e-waste continues to be a raging problem. Cell phones are an easy fix, with so many free recycling and donation options out there. But for many devices, solutions include hanging on to electronics until there is a free e-waste recycling day in your area, or researching different programs by various manufacturers until you find one that will finally take your old gadget. Still, when it comes to recycling electronics at a time that is convenient for consumers, it can be costly.
As Pike Research points out, "Consumers have few incentives to reuse or recycle used electronics equipment. In most countries, it is still too easy and relatively inexpensive to throw e-waste in the trash. An optimistic estimate of average recycle rates in about 15%. Inconsistent legislation, minimal controls on the recyclers, and little enforcement has also led to widespread and inappropriate dumping of e-waste in developing countries."
If we can solve the problems behind what stops people from proper electronics recycling, we can solve much of the world's e-waste problems. While the broad solution is clear - make it free and easy - the hard part is making this a reality. And ultimately, if we don't solve the problem of the cost of e-waste here, the really people footing the bill are those in developing countries that work in and around e-waste dumps. They're the last people who should be paying for our gadget consumption.