Throw all this away?! There are electronics in there, let alone all that plastic!
UPDATE: Click through (and scroll down) to read the progress made on iRobot's recycling practices after they saw this post.
TreeHugger Graham Hill recently bought a refurbished Scooba from iRobot. Upon arrival, the gadget didn't work. iRobot said they'd ship a new one, and while they've teamed up with Call2Recycle for recycling the batteries, they said to just go ahead and toss the Scooba and charger. In fact, not only did they say to toss it, but that it is "safe" to do so. Wait...say what? Put electronics in the trash?! Instead of razzing the company about this very un-eco-friendly lack of electronics recycling policies, we've decided to help out by recommending possible solutions. Here are five ideas for what iRobot can do to green up their e-waste, and we also want to know what ideas you have so we can present them with a set of savvy solutions. iRobot showed off their great customer service skills by being prompt and friendly about replacing the dead device. They helped out over the phone, and followed up with a thorough email. From the email send to Graham from iRobot we found some good things and some bad things about their recycling policies:
What iRobot is Doing Right
Recycle Your Old Batteries:
iRobot has recently partnered with Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation to make it easier than ever to recycle your old iRobot battery. Please visit the Call2Recycle™ web site at www.call2recycle.org to locate participating retailers near you. When your battery is ready to be recycled, you can take it to the nearest location and drop it off - making it more convenient to recycle.
What iRobot is Doing Wrong
At this time we have determined that your Scooba, Power Supply and Battery need to be replaced. Because we are not requiring you to return your current items to us, we ask that you dispose of these three items...
You may strip your Scooba of its parts, such as brush, cleaning head, filter, tank and vacuum port to keep them for spare parts if you wish. It is safe to simply throw away the robot itself.
For people who think about e-waste issues and recycling all day long, a statement like that can come as a real shock to the system. Also, while the email mentioned the battery recycling information, the customer service representative on the phone failed to mention that partnership to Graham. Instead, she said to throw the whole thing out. That means a lot of customers are likely missing out on iRobots's great partnership with Call2Recycle.
We beg to differ with iRobot on the idea that it is "safe" in any way to "throw away the robot itself." For many users, that means putting the robot in the trash bin. And that is the worst place for it to go.
Just some of the electronics found in an iRobot Scooba, including motherboard, wheel motor, speaker, brush motor, sensors, pump, and vacuum. These are not meant to go in a trash can! Via RobotShop
Possible Solutions for iRobot
We talk often and deeply about the environmental concerns of e-waste, both when it ends up in landfills and when it ends up in e-waste dumps in developing nations. iRobot already shows they're aware of e-waste and the importance of teaming up with recycling organizations, as shown by their partnership with Call2Recycle. So why not include the other electronic parts? We keep tabs on electronics recycling programs, and so have some ideas about what iRobot could do to turn their very eco-hazardous suggestion into a green solution.
1. Team up with e-Stewards and Responsible Recyclers
e-Stewards is one of the most reliable sources for finding responsible recyclers. It is a group of recyclers who hold the highest standards in electronics recycling. Teaming up with this organization can give iRobot access to a great network of recyclers nationwide. By sending broken products to recyclers on this list, iRobot could boast about an awareness of using only the most transparent and eco-friendly recyclers for their products.
2. Team up with MRM
Manufacturer's Recycling Management (MRM)'s Mission statement is "MRM's Mission is to bring electronics manufacturers and electronics recyclers together into long-term relationships that provide convenient recycling opportunities to consumers. Our long-term goal is sustainable electronic product recycling." Could that be more perfect for iRobot? The organization facilitates putting together programs that area easy to use for both electronics manufacturers and consumers. Right now, their main base is computer companies, since the organization was founded by Toshiba, Sharp and Panasonic. However, there's no reason why any electronics manufacturer shouldn't take part. It isn't yet nationwide, but it's growing and iRobot could utilize the compliance and collection services currently offered by MRM.
3. Provide a List of Recyclers and Options to Customers
It's not as strong or sure-fire way to get proper recycling done, but building on what they already do with Call2Recycle, iRobot could implement a policy to give customers clear and easy instructions on how to recycle their electronics. This could be a company-wide policy that on all literature going out with products, and on all customer services calls and correspondence, proper recycling of the products is encouraged and instructions on how to do so are provided. Coming up with the information to provide and making the change wouldn't take much time, nor would it cost much if materials are changed as print jobs are ordered.
4. Invest in Mailing Labels to Make It Free for Customers
It's an investment paid back in green cred. Spending the money to give customers with broken products a shipping label with which they can send in the defunct gadgets will go a long way in ensuring e-waste stays out of landfills and making iRobot look like a much more environmentally friendly company. It isn't difficult either - cell phone companies and, hey, even the post office are doing it. iRobot can then turn around and give the products to responsible recyclers near by, or better yet, reuse the bulk of the materials supplied by the products sent back in. In fact...
5. Skip Most Recycling - Reuse What's Sent In
Why not balance out what is invested in giving mailing labels to customers by reusing what's sent back in? They already refurbish usable devices for resale. Why tell a customer to just throw away a broken product when they could save money by reusing the parts on other refurbishable iRobot products? Materials for electronics are already growing scarce, and some of those minerals - a small but not ignorable percentage - used in various electronics come from conflict zones like the Congo. Plus, it's cheaper and greener for us to use materials already at our disposal than to mine, ship, refine, ship, process, ship, manufacture, ship, sell, and ship new products.
Helping iRobot and Other Companies Assist, Not Undo, Consumer Education Around RecyclingThe EPA and many consumer groups work diligently to educate the public about the importance of recycling e-waste. To have a product company turn around and say "Just toss it" is contradictory and undoes the efforts of these groups. We want to help iRobot, and indeed all electronics manufacturers, be part of improving e-waste awareness and avoid e-waste dumps.
What Do You Suggest? A Forum Just for You
We've set up a special topic in the forums for you to discuss ideas and solutions you think iRobot could consider.
UPDATE: 15 days later...Within 24 hours of this post going up on TreeHugger, a representative of iRobot contacted us letting us know that they took the input to heart and were making changes. Specifically, they said this:
First of all, thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. We have a remanufacturing facility that recycles our products, http://www.prcind.com/. Unfortunately "remanning a reman" has slipped through the cracks, but we will correct this immediately.
We are taking several of the actions recommended in this article and will retrain our reps this week. In addition, we will have a public FAQ with proper disposal instructions proudly posted by early next week.
We wanted to wait until definite progress was made before we updated you about the great response; however, after emailing the company back saying we were excited about their response and wanted to be updated as the changes were put into place, we haven't heard back.
We did see the comment below that the disposal instructions now say to recycle the products and not throw them away. However, a search of the site for disposal information, or even the FAQ section, yielded nothing. That means if the changes have been implemented, they aren't easy enough to find. We're still going to follow up again with the company in hopes to see the improvements through, and are hoping to hear back from iRobot about the progress. We'll keep you updated.
More on Great e-Cycling Programs
The Nitty Gritty on e-Cycling: Buy-Back, Take-Back, and Recycling Programs
Toshiba Makes e-Cycling Easier with Expanded Recycling Program
How and Where to Recycle All of Your Gadgets
Indiana Approves Major Statewide e-Waste Recycling Program