Death of Advanced Recycling Fee?

thumb1In the last few weeks, the issue of California’s e-waste recycling has become an increasingly prominent issue.  When speaking of US electronic waste rules, the general statement was “California is the only one with an advanced recycling fee (ARF)”, but their process seemed to work. After all, California’s e-waste laws have been in place much longer than e-waste legislation of other states. Unfortunately, it seems that California’s model of e-waste collection has unfortunately failed.

It seems that in 2002, when e-waste legislation was first considered and drafted, California also considered manufacturer responsibility legislation (Modesto Bee), which is currently used by 21 states. The voices of the tech industry, however, prevailed and California passed an e-waste recycling law requiring an advanced recycling fee (ARF). Given this legislation, when a customer purchases a new monitor or television, they are charged a fee (between $8 and $25), which should in turn be used to recycle the purchased equipment. The goal of the program was to provide a way for consumers to dispose of their electronics responsibly while providing funds for a green industry (Sacramento Bee). While the state had good intentions, no one could foresee the fraudulent activities that would take place.

Due to the amount of state-funding, hundreds of new electronics recyclers sprung up throughout the state (Merced Sun-Star). State officials passing the ARF legislation only counted on the environmental spirits in the state, but they did not foresee the greed that would take over the program. This has led to organizations importing electronics from Arizona and other neighboring states, in order to recycle the electronics within California and receive money for recycling such electronics products. To date, the state of California has paid approximately $320 million for electronics recycling, since the law’s passing in 2005 (Desert Dispatch). The state additionally recognizes that approximately $30 million have been used to recycle electronics which came in from other states, but it has rejected approximately $23 million of fraudulent claims. The Sacramento Bee offers a chart detailing California’s recyclers with the most claim denials.

Understandably, many are angered by the news and knowing their money is used to recycle e-waste  brought in from illegally other states. Environmentalists, however, have another problem with California’s law and its mistreatment – the disposal of usable monitors. California’s model makes it more enticing for people to recycle their “old” but usable monitors, instead of using them until they physically break or donating them to a charitable organization. ScrippsNews tackles this issue in their article “Mounds of usable computer monitors in Calif. dumps“.

So how can California handle this apparent fraud and misuse of their laws and funds? Will they change their laws to reflect other US states? If so, how long will this process take? What can be done in the meantime? These questions need answers – and soon! The failing system needs to go to the root of the problem, update legislation to meet these new challenges, and with proper care and maintenance, the system will be working better, more effectively, and should last for a very long time.

Where do I recycle my old electronics?

e_recycleDuring the last few weeks, I have received an increasing number of emails asking where people can recycle their old electronics. If you search for this answer online, you will probably be bombarded with various possibilities to return the electronics to manufacturers, sell your electronics for some extra cash, recycle your old electronics for a charitable cause, or simply bring the electronics to a national retailer. Another option, of course, is to bring your old electronics to a state-run or -approved collection event. Sometimes, going through pages and pages of information is not only time consuming, but it is also overwhelming.

To save you a headache, I took on the task of finding various e-waste collection and recycling methods. You can view various Electronic Take-Back and Donation Programs in a neat, easy-to understand format. This spreadsheet groups various electronic collection and recycling organizations in the following categories: Retailer Recycling Programs, Manufacturer Take-Back Programs, Electronics Trade-In Programs, Electronic Donation/Charity Programs, and State Collection Programs.

Rather than only providing you with links, the spreadsheet also tells you if you can simply drop off your equipment at a location, or if the electronics can be simply mailed to a facility. In addition, you can also find out simply which electronics are accepted by the various organizations. More importantly, I have also included links to various data-erasure methods. A common concern many consumers have is the security of their data before they turn in their old electronics.

In order to erase personal information from cell phones, feel free to visit the following websites:

To remove personal information from computers, the following services are available:

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) does not endorse any specific data-erasing programs. The stated programs were listed for general consumer data and do not signify endorsement.

Did we leave anyone off? If we missed any electronic take-back organizations or charities, please let us know at sei@istc.illinois.edu.

30% of use still means there is 70% waste

apple_iphoneRecently, AppleInsider published a story titled “Nearly 30% of Apple’s first-gen iPhones are still in use – report“. In short, the report mentions several statistics regarding the first generation iPhone. Please keep in mind that the first iPhone was released in June 2007, only to be replaced by the iPhone 3G in July 2008. That means that this phone was marketed (very well, if I remember correctly) for a mere 13 months.  The first generation iPhone sold 6.1 million units, which were  most likely all purchased within those 13 months. After all, why would someone want to buy an old version of a phone, if the newer, cooler, faster, sleeker model is available for a similar price?

The report names several other statistic, but I want to focus on the main statistic here. 30% of first generation iPhones are still being used. This means that 1.83 million first generation iPhones are still in use. And yes, that is a large number. However, 4.27 million is a greater number – this represents the amount of first generation iPhones that are no longer in use. What happened to these phones? Did they break? Did they suffer a fall that rendered them incapable of functioning correctly? I bet this happened only rarely. Instead, Apple came out with a new product. This product was superior to the previous generation of Apple products.  If my memory serves me correctly, since the introduction of the first generation iPhone, the world has also been introduced to two more generations of iPhones, as well as the iTouch and the brand new iPad. (And in related news: Apple Sold 1 million iPads in a month!)

While these new gadgets are a lot of fun, I am concerned about our lasting impact on the environment. The resources and natural capital needed to make these products is expensive, as well as environmentally hazardous. More importantly, the vast disposal and often improper disposal methods increase our need for a more sustainable system. However, Electronics Recyclers International CEO John Shegerian seems to disagree with me. In the article “Why the E-Waste Industry Love the iPad“, he mentions that this the iPad is a good thing.

I wonder if it is possible to allow designers to be creative and create new products, which would add to existing gadgets, instead of creating a desire for increased disposal and consumption of new products? Even if Apple, or any other electronics designer and manufacturer, would introduce a new performance-based, rather than product-based, model for their business and industry. We still have to convince consumers  that a cell phone, computer, or other electronic device can function to its full potential by simply maintaining the equipment, similar to the way you maintain your car, and possibly upgrading to a few new features. This would allow us to use our new gadgets until they actually fail, instead of only lasting as long as we think they are fun. For example, when the seats in your car start to wear down, do you get rid of your car and purchase a new one? Why can’t we have the same model for our electronics?

Apple is obviously concerned about their impact on the environment, as they have published information about the carbon emissions related to their products. By performing such analyses, one only hopes that Apple designers and engineers will be able to make products which will improve their products by leaving a lower environmental footprint. But I do want to encourage Apple and other electronic recyclers to research the life cycle impacts of their products, and consider not only the design of their products, but also the lasting environmental impact their products will leave on the Earth and future generations.

The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2

RedemtechResponsible Recycling (R2) and e-Stewards are the two major programs that certify electronic recyclers as responsible according to their own standards.  Redemtech, a recycler, reporter of e-waste news, and prominent contributor to e-Stewards (developed by a company called BAN,) has recently released a report comparing these two programs. The report is called E-Waste Recycling Standards: A Side-by-Side Comparison of e-Stewards and R2.  Just as the subtitle suggests, the Redemtech report shows a point-by-point comparison of e-Stewards and R2. Out of the 18 categories Redemtech has e-Stewards looking favorable in each and every one. So according to their report, R2 in no way compares to e-Stewards.

Is R2 really that bad? R2 was facilitated by the U.S. EPA and developed by ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc, which represents the Recycling industry so was the recycler’s view overly considered? I took a look at what Redemtech had to say.

Continue reading “The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2”

E-Waste Competition Winners Announced

poster2010

Winners have been announced in the International E-Waste Competition.  The competition is part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The competition is designed to prompt the industrialized world to dialogue about product designs for environmentally responsible computing and entertainment. The goals of this competition are to learn about ways to re-use electronic waste (E-Waste) for new and productive means, explore new ideas of how to address E-Waste problems, and contribute to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design.

The winners were announced at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), the coordinating agency for the Sustainable Electronics Initiative.  ISTC is part of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois.

The videos of the winning entrants were shown as a part of the International E-Waste Video Film Festival. The videos of the winning entries will be shown on the websites of the e-waste competition www.ewaste.illinois.edu, www.istc.illinois.edu, www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu, as well as SEI’s YouTube Channel.

Entries were judged in two categories: Technical/Geek and Artist/Designer. A total of 33 entries were submitted; 26 were in the Artist/Designer category, and 7 in the Technical/Geek category. Prizes were awarded for the top three projects within each category, along with two honorable mentions in the Artist/Designer category. The first, second, and third place winners will receive $5000, $3000, and $1000 monetary prizes, respectively. In addition, honorable mentions will receive $500. The total amount of money to be given out during the International E-Waste Competition is close to $20,000, which has been made possible through generous contributions by several sponsors, including Dell and Wal-mart.

Technical/Geek Category Winners

First Place

  • Team: Port-e-garden
  • Project name: Port-e-garden
  • School: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Video

Second Place

  • Team: Chaps
  • Project name: BioGrow
  • School: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Video

Third Place

  • Team: CSULB Studio Group #1
  • Project name: The Pure Drive Home Automation and Computing System
  • School: California State University, Long Beach CA
  • Video

Artist/Designer Category Winners

First Place

  • Team: revOlve
  • Project name: revOlve
  • School: Rochester Institute of Technology, New York
  • Video

Second Place

  • Team: eLiminators
  • Project name: E-volve
  • School: California State University, Long Beach CA
  • Video

Third Place

  • Team: eMotion
  • Project name: eMotion
  • School: California State University, Long Beach CA
  • Video

Honorable Mention

  • Team: CSULB ID 2011
  • Project name: The Personalized E-Waste Recycling Bin
  • School: California State University, Long Beach CA

Honorable Mention

  • Team: CSULB ID Team
  • Project name: E-Responsibility
  • School: California State University, Long Beach CA

The competition was started at UIUC in the fall of 2009. In 2010, the competition was expanded to an international base, where students from all over the globe were able to submit their projects and a 2-minute video online. Each project was judged on their project description and video.

The international scope of the competition was evident through students who submitted entries from various states in the US (Illinois, Minnesota, California, New York) and other countries (Cyprus, Canada, Australia, Turkey and South Korea). The jury of the competition included a variety of experts, including

  • Vicky Matranga, Design Program Coordinator of International Housewares Association;
  • Clive Roux, CEO of the Industrial Designers Society of America;
  • Joe Jasinski, Global Senior Industrial Design Manager at Dell, Inc.;
  • Steve Belletire, Design Area Head at Southern Illinois University;
  • Sam Al-Basha, Engineer at the IL Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity;
  • Chris Newman, Materials and Management Branch of US EPA;
  • Mike Tibbs, Sr. Director of Information Systems Division Compliance at Wal-mart;
  • Roger L. Franz, Engineering Manager at Motorola;
  • and Will Larkin, Director of Vendor Management Office and Star Complex at Wal-mart.

Continuing the Conversation

Last week we announced some highlights from our symposium held in February. Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment elicited a frenzy of information and thought provoking ideas. An extensive amount of topics were covered through a variety of perspectives.

In hopes of continuing the discussion I plan on posting a multi-part series addressing different topics raised at the symposium.

The first of this series will continue the topic from a recent post: export.

Continue reading “Continuing the Conversation”

Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment

greenearthThe Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), part of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), is hosting their first electronics and sustainability symposium. The event will be he held on February 23 and 24, 2010 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center.

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Electronics Recycling Responsibility

thumb1When talking about electronics recycling, most people would agree that it is a good idea. As a matter of fact, I am also confident that if you told people there is a place close to them which offers responsible electronics recycling, they would be more than happy to recycle old computers, cell phones, etc. But what happens when you ask someone to pay to have something recycled? Then the idea of recycling does not look nearly as appealing as before. This raises a very good question – who is responsible for electronics recycling?

This is a much-debated issue in the electronics world. Let’s face it–if a consumer paid a substantial amount of money for a computer, he or she will not be thrilled with the idea of paying more money to dispose of the computer. For many individuals in such a case, the option of storing an old computer sounds better than recycling it for a fee. Manufacturers are also not jumping for joy to recycle and dispose of electronic components with their money. So, once again, whose responsibility is it? Continue reading “Electronics Recycling Responsibility”

A satirical and very true view of the e-waste problem

Electronics PurchasingThe Onion is a very popular, purely fictional and extremely satirical website. The Onion usually consists of stories whose point is only to amuse, with stories such as “Most College Males Admit to Regularly Getting Stoked”. As topics become more interesting to media outlets, The Onion is usually there to make fun of those same topics with their dead-pan sarcasm. While amusing, most of their articles have never struck a particular chord with me until their article titled “New Device Desirable, Old Device Undesirable”. Continue reading “A satirical and very true view of the e-waste problem”

Watch Willie Cade's lecture: "The Truth, Tragedy, and Transformation of E-Waste"

On November 11th, 2009, at the I-Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign, IL, Willie Cade gave a lecture titled, “The Truth, Tragedy, and Transformation of E-Waste”.

Continue reading “Watch Willie Cade's lecture: "The Truth, Tragedy, and Transformation of E-Waste"”