Green

Microsoft joins with Dell to tackle e-waste on Earth Day

E-waste is becoming a mounting problem all over the world. Landfills are piling up with old computers, cell phones, and other electronics — many of which contain toxic materials that can contaminate groundwater, or never biodegrade. Now two of the most formidable producers of materials that eventually become e-waste — Dell and Microsoft — are banning together to stem the tide.

To do so, they are joining an existing recycling program run by Goodwill Industries International, the same organization that collects used clothing and furniture to sell at a discount to communities that need them. Since 2004, it has also accepted used computers and related devices, recycling them for free, under the auspices of its Reconnect program.

Today, it started accepting Microsoft-made electronics like Zunes and Xboxes. Goodwill has already been working with Dell to properly dispose of its desktop and laptop computers and their peripherals.

This is a pretty labor intensive process for the organization. All deposited e-waste is inspected by employees who determine whether it can be resuscitated and resold at a steep discount. Some of these devices are even sent out to be repaired if the problem is fixed easily enough. Everything left over is broken down into components and recycled very precisely based on materials used.

So far, Goodwill reports that the Reconnect program has saved about 96 million pounds in electronics that would have otherwise wound up in landfills.

Of course Goodwill isn’t alone in its e-waste disposal efforts. Office supply stores like Office Depot and Staples also offer their own sorting and recycling services when it comes to electronics, including mice, keyboards and speakers. And Apple users can simply turn their old products into retail locations when they buy something new. But many of these programs require a fee ranging between $10 to $30.

As part of the cultural consciousness, Goodwill, already the destination for so many used goods, is a natural pick for average consumers looking to unload old gadgets. It just needs to beef up its e-waste marketing efforts to make a bigger difference. Maybe in the future, the powers behind the service, Microsoft and Dell especially, can help them out with this.

The Goodwill Reconnect service is currently available at 1,900 locations around the country. It is definitely geared more toward homeowners. Commercial e-waste producers have a lot more choices when it comes to disposing of their old electronics, including companies like CloudBlue, RecycleMatch and eRecyclingCorps.