Costs of E-Waste RecyclingReal recycling costs money, and in the world of electronics the recycling program dictates who pays. To properly recycle electronics, they must be disassembled, categorized by material and, depending on the quality of the recycler, they can be broken and cleaned to get to the four basic commodities: glass, plastic, metals and hazardous parts/chemicals. There is a short video on YouTube about how tragic it is when electronic waste isn’t disposed of properly. These materials are sent to developing nations, and the results are tragic. Precisely for this reason, and because electronics are the fastest growing portion of the waste stream, people are finally starting to undertake real, responsible recycling. While a handful of organizations have taken on this environmentally and morally upstanding practice, there are variations in recycling programs around the nation. Below is a list of different electronic recycling programs one might run into when searching for an eco-friendly and people-friendly way to get rid of your old TV, computer, VCR, etc.

The nonprofit programs

Organizations such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill and Rescue Missions accept drop-off materials as their primary source of income. Acquiring these materials from the public is free, since they are donated, and allows these organizations to make a profit when they are refurbished and resold. While donations range from rags to musical instruments, electronics are starting to show up time and time again. Since real recycling costs money, nonprofit groups pay to have their unusable and/or broken equipment recycled responsibly. So, from those slim margins of profit such groups are accustomed to, they designate a portion to cover the costs of recycling correctly. This approach is the same for most businesses — the business bares the cost of the recycling service, but it is usually free for those who drop off the unwanted materials.

The takeback programs

Best Buy is the standalone example of how a major corporation has ingeniously merged green practices, business practices and what the customer wants. Born out of requests from green-thinking customers, Best Buy developed what is now perhaps the United States’ best example of big-box electronic recycling. While Best Buy does not actually recycle electronics, the company does pay U.S.-based recyclers to properly dispose of the unwanted electronics it receives. Here is a description of how the program works: Best Buy agrees to take back electronics, whether or not they were originally purchased there. There are a few scenarios where the customer gets to recycle electronic waste for free. A customer can trade in an old unit, such as a TV, and be reimbursed with a Best Buy gift card for the amount it is worth. A customer can also purchase a new TV from Best Buy and have its Geek Squad come and take the old one for free. A third option is to come in and drop off select electronics at a designated kiosk. Inkjet cartridges, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, CDs/DVDs, PDAs, smartphones and even that Best Buy gift card you earned the last time you recycled are all accepted at these kiosks. To learn more, go here.

The for-profit programs

There are several electronic recycling businesses that operate like, well, businesses. The goal of these groups is twofold: to make money like any business, and to stop the destructive practice of dumping old electronics on Third World countries or landfilling them here in our own. While the practice of recycling electronics is by in large a noble cause, in many states it must be approached with practical business logistics. Companies such as Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. (ERI), North America’s largest electronics recycler, actively shape the electronic recycling industry. But, even the United States’ premier e-waste recycler can’t make up for all of the gadgets and gizmos we go through regularly. Today, every state has a different approach to disposing of end-of-life electronic equipment (eco-friendly or otherwise). Legislation, policies, social acceptance and other factors dictate the business model these recyclers develop, but in most instances a small payment is usually standard. Whether it’s a city, county, solid waste district or community members, someone ends up footing the bill so the electronics can be properly disposed of. And, as with any company, for-profit e-waste recyclers need to pay their employees, cover their costs and hopefully make a profit to expand and improve their services down the road. These companies combine the American dream with eco-friendly practices. Can’t get much better than that!