MARCH 2009

Websites aid recovery of e-waste

E-mail the author

Consumers often do not know where to take their old electronics. They’ve heard that throwing old computers, TVs and mobile phones in the garbage have the potential to harm the environment once the gadgets reach the landfill. Therefore, many consumers store their old electronics in drawers, closets, basements or garages.

“I think there is hesitancy among consumers to expend too much effort to get rid of electronics that they no longer want,” said Tom Muhs, president and chief manager at Engaged Recycling LLC. “It’s more convenient to just leave them in the basement.”

More recycling operators like Engaged Recycling, through its website MyBoneYard.com, are trying to counter this hesitancy by providing consumers with ways to recycle their old electronics. The Minneapolis-based recycler launched its online e-recycling effort at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January last year.

MyBoneYard.com offers consumers free shipping for old electronics and in some cases rewards, which includes payments on a pre-paid Visa card. “Once you get consumers started in the process, even when you can’t offer a reward, they are more willing to package it up and make sure it is responsibly recycled,” Muhs said.

Engaged Recycling is a partnership between Young America Corp., Eco International LLC and The Wireless Source, Inc. Young America is a sweepstakes and rebates company. Eco International recycles larger electronic devices, such as computers and televisions, and the Wireless Source handles mobile phones and music players.

MyBoneYard.com is truly the simple, safe and smart way to recycle electronics,” Muhs said. The process is simple because it is online. It is safe because every device is sent directly into owner-operated facilities for recycling or reselling. Muhs said it is smart because it offers rewards that encourage consumers to recycle.

Without much in the way of promotion, more consumers are starting to use MyBoneYard.com. “We haven’t put a lot of effort behind marketing. It has just been word-of-mouth,” Muhs said. “Our focus has been in creating private-label and co-branded versions for clients that include manufacturers, retailers and charitable organizations.”

Clients include the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, the USO, the Humane Society and others. The groups have the capability to track recycling donations.

Engaged Recycling has one facility that is responsible for phones, music players, GPS devices and other small electronics. Those items, shipped by United States Postal Service, go to a facility near Detroit. Larger items, shipped by UPS, go to one of three facilities located in either New York, Texas or California. Muhs said the company is also in the process of building a network of drop-off locations at various retail locations.

The old electronics are sent to owner-operated facilities where the product is triaged and then data-cleared. All hard drives, for example, are pulled from every computer and the data is destroyed. Drives intended for repurposing go through an automated process, where the drives are erased, written full with dummy data, erased, rewritten again and erased one final time. Unusable hard drives are shredded.

“We feel it is important to have a closed-loop process, where we know what is going on,” Muhs said. “We make sure we are independently audited and certified.”

TechForward, Inc. also has a plan to help consumers get rid of unwanted electronics at TechForward.com. It offers consumers buyback plans. But the company does not consider itself a recycler, said Jade Van Doren, chief executive officer.

While recyclers provide an outlet for old or broken devices, Van Doren said most recyclers do not offer value back to consumers for their products. Others, like trade-in services, take working devices that consumers no longer want, but only give the consumer a fraction of the market value. In contrast, he said, TechForward offers to lock-in the trade-in values upfront for consumers at the time of sale of the original device.

“Our customers know how much they can get back for their devices if and when they decide to upgrade,” Van Doren said. “Our Guaranteed Buyback plans help customers upgrade their consumer electronics more affordably, easily and environmentally responsibly by guaranteeing future trade-in values for electronics at the point and time of sale, making the return process easy with free return shipping.”

Van Doren said the downturn in the economy is not hurting the Los Angeles-based company, which uses a network of partners to receive, refurbish, resell and recycle the devices. He said that TechForward expects to see higher volumes this year.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 68 percent of consumers throw old devices in drawers, closets or basements when they are done with them. “We believe that’s because they have no clear path for what to do with them,” Van Doren said. “We provide such a path upfront when they first purchase their device.”

There is a growing awareness among consumers of the need for recycling electronics, said Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Research by the Arlington, Virginia-based trade group reveals that 87 percent of consumers think that recycling electronics is important.

Brugge said that the industry is trying to draw attention to the need for electronics recycling and give clear information on why and how to recycle. CEA promotes electronics recycling to consumers through its online resource, myGreenElectronics.org, which includes a zip-code searchable database of electronics recyclers nationwide.

“Nearly all major electronics manufacturers have introduced or expanded their electronics recycling programs over the last year,” Brugge said. “However, it is the CEA’s position that a federal solution is needed to help make electronics recycling easy.”