Green Chemistry and Biomimicry: A More Sustainable Process for Metal Extraction

A team of chemists from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, have developed a way to process metals without toxic solvents and reagents. Their innovation could help reduce negative environmental impacts of metal extraction from raw materials and electronic scrap.

As reported by McGill, “The system, which also consumes far less energy than conventional techniques, could greatly shrink the environmental impact of producing metals from raw materials or from post-consumer electronics…In an article published recently in Science Advances, the researchers outline an approach that uses organic molecules, instead of chlorine and hydrochloric acid, to help purify germanium, a metal used widely in electronic devices. Laboratory experiments by the researchers have shown that the same technique can be used with other metals, including zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt.”

The development is an interesting example of biomimicry. Germanium is a semiconductor not found in substantial quantities in any one type of ore, so a series of processes are used to reduce mined materials with small quantities of the metal to a mixture of germanium and zinc. Isolation of germanium from the zinc in this resulting mixture involves what one of the researchers called “nasty processes.” For an alternative less dependent upon toxic materials and energy use, the researchers found inspiration in melanin, the pigment molecule present in skin, hair, and irises of humans and other animals. Besides contribution to coloration, melanin can bind to metals. The researchers synthesized a molecule that mimics some of melanin’s metal-binding qualities. Using it they were able to isolate germanium from zinc at room temperature, without solvents.

Image of a shiny, silver-grey metallic rock
Image of germanium by W. Oelen, CC BY 3.0

As the McGill article states, “The next step in developing the technology will be to show that it can be deployed economically on industrial scales, for a range of metals.”

Read the full story, published June 7, 2017 by the McGill Newsroom at https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/more-sustainable-way-refine-metals-268517.

See also “A chlorine-free protocol for processing germanium,” Martin Glavinović et al., Science Advances, 5 May 2017. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700149 http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/5/e1700149

To learn more about germanium and its applications (including fiber-optics, infrared optics, solar electric applications, and LEDs), see the Wikipedia article on germanium at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanium.

Illini Gadget Garage Announces Hours for Summer 2017 and Off-Campus Services

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) is a collaborative repair center on the UIUC campus to assist students, staff and faculty with troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues for their personally owned electronic devices and small appliances. The project is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program as a waste reduction outreach project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).

Summer hours
The IGG has announced hours for Summer 2017. “Pop-up” repair clinics will be held at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Open hours will be held at the IGG’s physical workshop (INHS Storage Building #3) on South Oak Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 2 PM and on Fridays from noon to 4 PM. A map is available for directions to the physical location: http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z. Note that hours are subject to change, as staff are working to schedule more pop-up clinics in order to bring services to a wider audience, so check the project web site or Facebook page for announcements.

Image which lists the summer 2017 hours for the Illini Gadget Garage

Bring a pop-up repair clinic to your facility
Related to that spirit of expansion, the IGG is now offering off-campus pop-ups for companies and organizations that would like to bring “do-it-together” repair to their site as way to engage employees and patrons in product stewardship and sustainability. Staff will come to your location with the necessary tools, and they can arrange to have your audience fill out a diagnostic form in advance so they can research information on the devices and issues being faced ahead of time, making one-on-one interactions during the event more productive. Off-campus pop-ups are 2-4 hours long to allow sufficient time for troubleshooting, repairs, and any additional research. Note that IGG does not sell parts, but if it is determined that a part is needed, staff can assist individuals in determining the exact models of required parts and in researching ways to obtain the part. Staff can also help individuals identify local repair businesses that could help them address more complex damage or businesses that can accept items for proper recycling if they are beyond repair. IGG can help identify local businesses and/or online vendors for informational purposes only; the IGG does not endorse any external business and the ultimate decision of how/where to obtain parts or services is that of the consumer.

A pop-up repair clinic can provide a unique benefit to your staff, and be part of your organization’s sustainability efforts, by creating conversations around the impacts of product manufacture, design, and end-of-life management. Such events also provide empowerment and team building opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in scheduling a clinic at your facility, please contact Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist, for more information and pricing. Fees are charged to host organization of a pop-up clinic to support staff members time both at the event and for preparation; however individuals that attend your event (e.g. employees and/or patrons) are not themselves charged for the assistance they receive. Off-campus pop-up clinics are not restricted to the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area, but please be aware that additional fees may apply for travel.

View from above showing a student seated at a table working with tools to dismantle and repair a laptop

Support IGG outreach in your community or on the UIUC campus
Companies and corporations interested in sponsoring a pop-up repair clinic in their community or at a particular public space are encouraged to contact Joy Scrogum to discuss possibilities and to receive instructions for contributions to the appropriate UI Foundation fund. Additionally, any individual or company interested in supporting IGG’s efforts to provide product stewardship and waste reduction guidance to the UIUC community at no cost to students, faculty and staff may make online donations via the UI Foundation to the “SEI Various Donors Fund,” which supports the educational efforts of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. You may indicate “Support the Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Special Instructions” section of the online donation form. We thank you and the project’s current sponsors for your support!

ISTC Earns Gold Level Recognition from State Electronics Challenge for Third Year in a Row

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), the parent organization of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), has once again been recognized by the State Electronics Challenge (SEC) program for its accomplishments in green purchasing, energy conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment.

As a result of its environmental initiatives, in 2016 ISTC saved enough energy to power 42 households per year, avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 68 cars from the road per year, as well as avoiding the generation of 37 pounds of hazardous waste.

For more information, see the press release on the ISTC Blog at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/blog/2017/04/04/state-electronics-challenge-recognizes-illinois-sustainable-technology-center-as-a-2016-gold-award-winner/.

photo of SEC plaque made of old circuit boards

Registration Open for May 2017 Champaign County Electronics Recycling Event

Registration is now open for residents that would like to participate in the upcoming Champaign County Electronics Collection event on May 20, 2017. See complete details, along with suggestions for how to recycle and reuse electronics throughout the year, in my post on the ISTC Blog at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/blog/2017/04/03/registration-open-for-champaign-co-electronics-recycling-event/.

recycling symbol on computer key

Illini Gadget Garage Serves as Drop-off for Single-use Batteries, CDs, and DVDs

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG), a collaborative electronics repair center on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, is providing some unique recycling services for the community. First of all, IGG has become a drop-off collection point for single-use batteries, having already filled one of the “iRecycle” 55 lb. capacity battery collection buckets available from Battery Solutions, a R2/RIOS certified recycler. Another collection bucket is on its way, and the IGG crew look forward to receiving a “Confirmation of Reclamation” letter from Battery Solutions, which will confirm receipt of the materials for recycling and indicate the number of pounds of different types of batteries, by chemistry, were present in the collection bucket. Illini Gadget Garage project coordinator Joy Scrogum purchased the collection buckets using funds donated to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI). UI Facilities and Services )F&S) had previously purchased these collection bins for ISTC and other departments on campus, but that arrangement ended when cuts were necessary due to state budget issues. Using SEI donations seemed like a great way to help continue convenient battery recycling for the campus community. (Note that the free Call2Recycle rechargeable battery recycling program is still coordinated by F&S, and the ISTC building at 1 Hazelwood Drive in Champaign is still one of four drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries on campus.)

In addition, the IGG is accepting personally-owned CDs, DVDs and their cases. Locally, the IDEA Store has accepted these for resale and reuse in art and educational projects, but knowing that they are frequently inundated with various types of materials, it was decided to try to find an outlet that would recycle these items (in fact CD and DVD cases are currently on the IDEA Store’s “we don’t need more right now” list). At present, not a lot of material in this stream has been collected, but when a fair amount is available, they will be shipped to the CD Recycling Center of America. It should be noted that CDs and DVDs used to store information for University business should NOT be dropped off at the IGG–those should be provided to departmental IT staff for proper data destruction and recycling via the University’s contracted electronics recycler. The IGG collection is for your personally owned but unwanted music, movies, old copies of outdated software, etc.

Please also note that the IGG does NOT accept electronic devices for recycling. University-owned electronics should be disposed of via the campus surplus system. UI students, staff, faculty, and other community members should consult the Champaign County Electronics Recycling Guide for a list of local businesses that will accept their personally-owned electronics for recycling.

If you’re happy to have these services available through the IGG, consider making a small donation to the SEI Various Donors Fund to support this and other outreach efforts of SEI. The UI Foundation will send you an acknowledgement of your donation for tax purposes.

UI departments or units that produce a large amount of waste single-use batteries, may wish to obtain their own battery recycling bucket through Battery Solutions or another company. Battery recycling can earn an office points in the campus Certified Green Office program.

Questions about the IGG recycling programs or suggestions for other services you would like to see offered via the IGG can be addressed to illinigadgetgarage@gmail.com.

Note that links and mentions of businesses are included for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by the IGG, associated departments, or the University of Illinois.

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NASA Invests in Innovative Concepts, Including Electronic-recycling Microbes

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced that 13 proposals had been selected for funding as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which “invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.” According to the press release, “NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000 for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.” Read the full press release on the NASA web site.

Among the funded proposals is a concept entitled Urban bio-mining meets printable electronics: end-to-end at destination biological recycling and reprinting,” submitted by Lynn Rothschild, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The project description states:

“Space missions rely utterly on metallic components, from the spacecraft to electronics. Yet, metals add mass, and electronics have the additional problem of a limited lifespan. Thus, current mission architectures must compensate for replacement. In space, spent electronics are discarded; on earth, there is some recycling but current processes are toxic and environmentally hazardous. Imagine instead an end-to-end recycling of spent electronics at low mass, low cost, room temperature, and in a non-toxic manner. Here, we propose a solution that will not only enhance mission success by decreasing upmass and providing a fresh supply of electronics, but in addition has immediate applications to a serious environmental issue on the Earth. Spent electronics will be used as feedstock to make fresh electronic components, a process we will accomplish with so-called ‘urban biomining’ using synthetically enhanced microbes to bind metals with elemental specificity. To create new electronics, the microbes will be used as ‘bioink’ to print a new IC chip, using plasma jet electronics printing. The plasma jet electronics printing technology will have the potential to use martian atmospheric gas to print and to tailor the electronic and chemical properties of the materials. Our preliminary results have suggested that this process also serves as a purification step to enhance the proportion of metals in the ‘bioink’. The presence of electric field and plasma can ensure printing in microgravity environment while also providing material morphology and electronic structure tunabiity and thus optimization. Here we propose to increase the TRL level of the concept by engineering microbes to dissolve the siliceous matrix in the IC, extract copper from a mixture of metals, and use the microbes as feedstock to print interconnects using mars gas simulant. To assess the ability of this concept to influence mission architecture, we will do an analysis of the infrastructure required to execute this concept on Mars, and additional opportunities it could offer mission design from the biological and printing technologies. In addition, we will do an analysis of the impact of this technology for terrestrial applications addressing in particular environmental concerns and availability of metals.”

Note that “TRL” refers to “Technology Readiness Level,” a measure of the technological maturity of a concept, indicative of the degree to which it has developed beyond the initial faults and unforeseen problems that inevitably arise when something theoretical is brought into practice. NASA TRL definitions help characterize whether a concept is ready for use in space flight during missions or has been “flight proven” as part of successful missions.

Printable Electronics
Graphic depiction of printable electronics, from concept description on NASA web site.

Though the idea is geared toward making missions to Mars more practical in terms of the weight of materials needed to pack for missions and dealing with the lack of a local repair shop in the event of a device breakdown, the concept–if successful–could have obvious positive impacts on sustainable electronic product design and responsible management of the ever-growing stream of discarded electronics here on Earth. This could end up becoming one more example of how technology developed to enable space exploration could have benefits to humans in their everyday terrestrial lives. NASA has published an annual accounting of such technologies called “Spinoff” since 1976.

For more information on the NIAC program, visit https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/index.html. For more information on technological “spinoffs”  from space exploration which improve life on Earth, see the press release for the 2016 edition of Spinoff, and the official NASA Spinoff web site.

State Electronics Challenge Recognizes the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) as a 2016 Gold Winner

ISTC Logo[Champaign, Illinois April 4, 2016]The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) today received a Gold award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge; a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 220,000 employees in 47 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green procurement, energy and paper conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2015.

“ISTC’s program is a truly outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, State Electronics Challenge Program Manager. “This is the second year in a row that the program has earned a Gold Award.” She added that “ISTC is one of only 12 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”

“We’re really pleased to have received recognition again. Participating in the State Electronics Challenge has provided a great framework for our organization to ensure that we’re making better choices in purchasing as well as continuing efforts to limit impacts in the use and end-of-life management phases,” said Joy Scrogum, Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist and coordinator of ISTC’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).

As a result of these environmental initiatives, in 2015 ISTC saved enough energy to power 6 households per year, avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 8 cars from the road per year, as well as avoiding the generation of more than 50 pounds of hazardous waste – equivalent to the weight of a refrigerator.

ISTC has committed to purchasing computer and imaging equipment that is qualified by the Electronic Procurement Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT®) standard.  EPEAT is an internationally recognized system that identifies office equipment that meets specified environmental performance criteria.  It also uses power management and requires double-sided printing to decrease energy and paper usage, and ensures that at the end-of-life, equipment is recycled by a third-party certified electronics recycler – Secure Recycling Services & Secure Processors.

“ISTC was the first Illinois organization to participate in the State Electronics Challenge, joining back in 2011. We only began applying for recognition in recent years, after we took the time to write a specific policy that captured what we were already doing to make our electronics-related operations more sustainable, as well as setting forth purchasing standards. The written policy will help us stay on target and continuously improve in the coming years, through revisions as our goals change. ISTC provides technical assistance to organizations and businesses throughout the state, and we’ve been able to point clients and other University of Illinois departments to the SEC checklist and resources as a way of helping them tackle sustainable electronics issues in simple, manageable ways,” Ms. Scrogum stated.

The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments.  In 2015, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible recycling resulted in a total of more than 1,250 tons of electronics being recycled, which, along with power management and green procurement:

  • Prevented the release of almost 12,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E). This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 8,612 passenger cars.
  • Saved enough energy to supply 7,845 homes per year
  • Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 2,120 refrigerators
  • Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by 388 households/year.

A full list of winners and their environmental accomplishments can be found on the State Electronics Challenge website (www.stateelectronicschallenge.net).

“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein.  “It’s inspiring to see programs such as the one developed and implement by the ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.“

The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung, Panasonic, and the R2/RIOS Program.

About ISTC

ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Its mission is to encourage and assist citizens, businesses, and government agencies to prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and reduce waste to protect human health and the environment of Illinois and beyond. It promotes more sustainable technologies, processes, and practices through an integrated program of research, demonstration projects, technical assistance, and outreach. Learn more at www.istc.illinois.edu.

About the State Electronics Challenge

The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment.  It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (www.nerc.org). Currently, 157 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations, representing more than 212,600 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners.  For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net.

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ERCC Publishes Report on Consumer Awareness of Electronics Recycling Programs

ERCC logoThe Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC) published a report on March 15, 2016 entitled “ERCC Consumer Awareness Survey: A Look at How Electronics Recycling Programs Have Impacted E-Cycling Activities And Awareness.”  According to the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC), this is “the first study comparing state-level consumer awareness levels of electronics recycling programs as well as other important consumer preferences. Previous surveys of consumer awareness on electronics recycling have focused on a nationwide rate or within a single state. ERCC undertook the surveys in order to establish an additional measure of performance for electronics recycling programs, and to compare rates of awareness of electronics recycling options among states as well as ask other important questions. After developing a survey script with 10 standard questions on awareness, collection preference, barriers to recycling and other topics, ERCC surveyed member states who stepped forward to fund their survey costs, as well as other member and non-member states made possible by affiliate member contributions. In all, ERCC surveyed 6 states WITHOUT electronics recycling laws and 6 states WITH electronics recycling laws at varying levels of confidence. To carry out the surveys, ERCC contracted with Service 800, a company with 20 years of experience in the design and execution of customer satisfaction measurement surveys.”

States participating which do have electronics recycling legislation included Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Texas. Participating states without such legislation included Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

The executive summary of the report states:

“As of late 2015, there are 25 states with laws on electronics recycling, and most have had multiple years of implementation. As the programs mature, many stakeholders are wanting a better understanding of measures of performance that goes beyond the current knowledge of “pounds collected” or “number of collection sites”. One desired measure of performance is the level of awareness of electronics recycling programs among consumers for whom the services are available. Prior to this study, a handful of states and one national organization measured awareness rates, but none had done so to compare rates among different states. The goal of the consumer awareness surveys featured in this report was to do just that.

The Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC) conducted surveys of consumers in states where the state agency expressed an interest and was able to fund a survey. In addition, ERCC received contributions and surveyed an additional number of states (both with laws and without). The goal was to increase the number of state-level results and to gauge any difference in awareness and attitudes between states with and without laws, and also to get a general understanding overall awareness and other factors in increasing electronics recycling.

Survey results indicate that there does not appear to be a significant difference in awareness of recycling options when comparing states that have laws versus those that don’t. 40.7% of those surveyed across LAW STATES and NON-LAW STATES are CERTAIN they know where to recycle their electronics. Adding in those who “THINK THEY KNOW” where to take their used electronics, the national result is just over 70% awareness. The state with the highest combined response of “Yes, I know where” to recycle and “I think I know where” to recycle was Oregon at 79.7%. The lowest was Wyoming at 62.4%.

It is important to note the limitations to this survey – approximately 83% of the responses were from individuals in states that have laws. All of the non-law states were conducted at lower levels of confidence due to funding limitations, but they do give insights that were previously unavailable. Taken as a whole, the surveys conducted give us a baseline for comparing future awareness level results as programs become more widespread (or potentially contract), and key pieces of data on how consumers seek out and participate in electronics recycling programs across the country. One other limitation worth mentioning is that awareness and convenience have very distinct differences. A person may know they can recycle a computer 150 miles away, but that may not be a convenient location for them. Convenience (or accessibility) is key in determining whether a resident will recycle 3/15/2016 ERCC CONSUMER AWARENESS SURVEY 2 their electronics. In some states, the law specifically spells out how many recycling drop-off locations there must be for electronics in various counties. In other states, this is not something that is spelled out in the law at all. Furthermore, when looking at states without laws, there are no laws of convenience for electronics recycling. It is up to the consumer to source out a location in order to recycle. That location may or may not be convenient. Does this have an impact on recycling rates across the states? This may be something worth looking at in a future survey – whether or not convenience (distance from the closest collection site) effects recycling rates.”

To read the full report, go to http://www.electronicsrecycling.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ERCC-Consumer-Awareness-Survey-Summary-Report-FINAL.pdf. This link is included with the SEI Resource Complilations.

Upcoming Webinar on CRT Recycling, Management Issues

US EPA Region 3, the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC), and the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse (ERCC) are sponsoring a webinar on Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 9:00  to 11:00 AM CDT, entitled ” CRTs: What Can Be Done?” 

CRTs, or cathode ray tubes, are found in older TVs and computer monitors. CRTs contain leaded glass, making discarded CRTs a hazardous waste (lead is a neurotoxin). In the past, the leaded glass could be reused in the production of new CRT monitors, but that technology has been replaced by flat screens, and thus, there is no longer a demand for the problematic components of these monitors. Processing them has become costly rather than profitable for recyclers, and  new uses for the leaded glass and new means of recycling have been considered and debated in recent years.

This webinar will focus on recycling possibilities, the issues companies face, and the potential for various technologies to address the CRT problem. Four knowledgeable panelists will share their expertise and opinions, followed by a short question and answer session.

Presenters include:

  • JJ Santos, Camacho Recycling, Spain
  • Rich Hipp, Kuusakoski, USA
  • Tom Bolon, Novotec, Ohio
  • Simon Greer, NuLife Glass, New York

See https://epawebconferencing-events.acms.com/content/connect/c1/7/en/events/event/shared/default_template/speaker_info.html?sco-id=100343474 for additional information on the presenters. Registration is available at https://epawebconferencing-events.acms.com/content/connect/c1/7/en/events/event/shared/default_template/event_registration.html?sco-id=100343474.

Best Buy Ends Free Recycling of Televisions and Monitors

Best Buy Logo.svgLast week, Best Buy announced that it would no longer be offering free recycling of televisions and monitors through its in-store collection program. The retailer is now charging a fee of $25 for each TV or monitor–whether they are flat screen or the older, bulky CRT monitors that contain leaded glass–in most states.

According to the announcement, in Illinois and Pennsylvania, “we are no longer recycling these particular products because of laws that prevent us from collecting fees to help run our program. All other products – such as batteries, ink cartridges, computers, printers and hundreds of other items – continue to be recycled for free at all of our stores.” However, there is an exception to this complete discontinuation of the company’s recycling service for these products in IL, as noted in the latest version of the Electronics Recycling Guide for Residents of or nearby Champaign, County, IL“If a Best Buy customer purchases a 55″ or larger TV from Best Buy and has it delivered to their home, then Best Buy will take back one TV for recycling. Or, a person may sign up at Best Buy’s home theater section, pay $100 for a television pick-up, and then Best Buy would arrange to pick-up and recycle a TV from a residence.” (Thanks to Susan Monte of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission and Courtney Kwong of the City of Urbana for this information. It should also be noted that the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission is also seeking approval and authorization of funds to host county electronics collection events in the spring. Decisions regarding such funding will be made later this month, and if county collection events are scheduled, information on those collections will be shared on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative web site.)

Best Buy has been a leader in offering electronics recycling for many years–it has collected more than a billion pounds of electronics and appliances since 2009. The company’s leadership will continue in terms of recycling other consumer electronics, but recycling is driven by commodity prices. Old cathode-ray tube (CRT) monitors were surely a large part of the TV and monitor recycling stream coming into Best Buy stores, and since these monitors aren’t really manufactured any more, there’s less demand for the leaded glass they contain. This makes handling these hazardous materials a costly prospect for recyclers, and as time goes on, more and more recycling programs are ceasing the acceptance of monitors and TVs, or adding restrictions.

However, CRTs aren’t the only issue here, as Resa Dimino, Senior Advisor for the Product Stewardship Institute, pointed out in an opinion piece for Resource Recycling this week. Best Buy is charging for flat screens as well, so its clear that costs associated with recycling those types of devices are also proving too much for the retailer to continue to offer for free nationally. This counters the argument made by some that once the problematic CRTs have been cleared from the system, electronics related Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws that hold manufacturers responsible for safe and proper disposal of their products, will no  longer be needed as the value of other materials in the recycling stream covers the costs of collection and processing. Dimino further notes that EPR laws are only effective when they’re fair and equitable–flaws in current legislation allow some manufacturers to step back while a few manufacturers and retailers (like Best Buy) take up the slack, shouldering more than their fair share of financial responsibility for sustainable management of materials. Also, local governments cannot afford to pay for provision of electronics recycling to residents. All of this suggests, according to Scott Cassel of the Product Stewardship Institute, “it’s time to revisit the nation’s 25 state e-scrap laws to ensure that all manufacturers are equally responsible for electronics recycling.”

Barbara Kyle of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition suggested the following in her blog post on Best Buy’s recycling policy change: “The solution here would be for the manufacturers – particularly the TV companies – to visibly partner with Best Buy to cover some of the recycling costs, and to make sure that responsible recycling occurs. The TV companies, who are always challenged by finding collection sites, could take advantage of the chain’s huge network of stores, which are very convenient collection points for most consumers. This would be an ongoing national partnership program, in every state, in every store, co-marketed by the retailer and the industry. This could also be established with Walmart and their huge network of stores. While Amazon doesn’t have stores, there are many ways in which they could help to be part of the solution.”  Perhaps if there is pressure from consumers on electronics manufacturers and other big retailers, this sort of scenario could happen.

For more information on the stewardship of electronics and other consumer products in our state, see the Illinois Product Stewardship Council web site. Also see the IL EPA site for information on our current state electronics recycling law.