JUNE 2008

Goodwill Industries wants Congress to fix growing e-waste problem

Goodwill Industries is urging Congress to assist in the development of a recycling and reuse infrastructure for unwanted electronic products. In testimony before the House Committee on Science and Technology, Goodwill described the complicated challenges facing nonprofit organizations that accept donated televisions, computers and other electronic waste.

Goodwill is increasingly seen as a solution for what to do with old computers and other electronic products. A survey of local Goodwill agencies nationwide found that 23 million pounds of e-waste – the equivalent of roughly 821,000 computers – were donated to Goodwill alone in 2004. Nearly all Goodwill agencies receive computers and a growing number have established formal collection programs designed to reuse, recycle or responsibly dispose of them.

“There are costs, responsibilities, and liabilities associated with serving as a collector,” says Jim Gibbons, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International. “As much as 30 percent of electronics donated to Goodwill are unusable, and disposing of these products in an environmentally responsible way diverts significant resources from Goodwill’s job training programs.”

Local Goodwill agencies handle and process computer donations in a variety of ways. Whenever possible the equipment is refurbished and resold. Increasingly, however, nonprofit organizations like Goodwill are shouldering the burden of responsible disposal, which is often very costly.

“Product design changes could facilitate the re-use, disassembly, and recycling of products,” says Gerardo Castro, director of contracts and environmental services at Goodwill Industries of Southern California, in testimony before the House Committee on Science and Technology. “Standardized chargers for cell phones are an example of design changes that would add minimal costs to the product while achieving substantial impact in the reuse area.”

Goodwill Industries is calling on the federal government to:

  • Assist in the development of a sustainable recycling/reuse infrastructure.
  • Support incentives to manufacturers for product design changes.
  • Use incentives such as tax credits for manufacturers who partner with social agencies, as well as recycling grants and other initiatives that could spur viable solutions and help stakeholders handle this problem.