Pilot Program Shows Strong Interest in E-Recycling
BOSTON, Mass. A trial effort to evaluate feasibility of widespread recycling of consumer electronics shows that items such as computers can be easily recycled at low cost to consumers and retailers.
Analysis was recently completed on a pilot program called "eCycling," a collaboration between U.S. EPA, Staples, Inc., and the Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. (PSI) The program sought to determine if a major retailer such as Staples could provide recycling services for e-waste (i.e., unwanted electronic equipment) to its retail and commercial customers within the company's existing distribution infrastructure.
Analysis of the pilot indicates that eCycling was cost effective, and was well received by consumers and Staples. Program organizers found the retail collection model appears to be a viable option to complement and expand the existing e-waste collection infrastructure, although retailers may conclude that nominal user fees would need to be charged to consumers to offset the collection and recycling costs. Generally, high transportation costs are one of the barriers for providing cost-efficient eCycling services.
"The successful eCycling pilot shows that consumers and businesses will respond, if given the chance to recycle consumer electronics," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "By creating new opportunities to reuse and recycle items like old computers, monitors and printers, we can keep these devices from ending up in landfills."
The Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute, a national nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable resource use, managed the grant. PSI designed and implemented the project along with Staples to test whether computer recycling could be consistent with Staples' business model.
"This pilot project shows without a doubt that retailers and manufacturers can work with their customers to recycle computer equipment in an environmentally responsible and cost effective manner," said Scott Cassel, executive director of the Product Stewardship Institute. "This is a model that works, saves resources, and can ultimately be expanded to other product areas."
Conducted during the summer of 2004, the project collected unwanted electronic equipment sold by Staples (including laptops, computer processing units, monitors, printers, fax machines, and small peripheral devices) from both retail and commercial customers, and provided recycling services using "reverse logistics" via Staples' delivery trucks and its existing product distribution network.
The pilots collected and recycled a total of 57 tons of e-waste during several months in mid-2004. In one program, Staples collected electronic equipment from retail customers at 27 Staples retail stores in five states (Maine [10 stores], Mass. [8 stores], N.H. [5 stores], Conn. [3 stores] and R.I. [1 store]) over a six-week period.
In a second program, Staples collected electronic equipment from 14 existing commercial customers in three states (Mass., Maine and N.H.) who typically receive direct delivery of products at their place of business. This pilot tested the "reverse logistics" transportation model using Staples' product delivery networks. The collected equipment was back-hauled by delivery carriers, consolidated at distribution and fulfillment centers, then transported to Envirocycle, an electronics recycler located in Hallstead, Penn.
Program organizers say these pilots illustrate the growing need and opportunity to expand collections of electronic waste, both at retail stores and commercial customer locations in New England and nationwide, say program organizers.
EPA is continuing to spur private and public sector partnerships under its Plug-in To eCycling program, which promotes shared responsibility for safe electronics recycling. Since being launched in 2003, the Plug-in To eCycling program has garnered 21 partners from the manufacturing and consumer retail sectors, and 26 partners from various local and state government agencies. In addition to Staples, partners in this effort include such major businesses as Apple Computers, Best Buy, Dell Computers, Office Depot and Sony. In the first two years of the program, over 45 million lbs. of old electronics have been safely recycled.