Business

Electronics recycling rises sharply, survey finds

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Recycling is as American as apple pie. But is it as American as Apple Inc.? Maybe so: Electronics recycling has sharply risen in the past three years, according to a recent online survey.

General recycling is at all-time high levels, with 84 percent of U.S. residents recycling their trash — helped no doubt by the widespread availability of curbside recycling programs in many communities.

But in 2010, just 39 percent of us were taking our old gadgets to be recycled. Now that nnumber has jumped to 72 percent, according to the survey, conducted by Retrevo and Bizrate Insights. The survey asked about 3,600 online buyers what they felt about various recycling practices, so it probably skews towards the demographic of online shoppers: Electronics-savvy and already fairly well-connected. Still, it’s encouraging for those of us who don’t like to think about toxic electronics leaking from landfills into our water supplies, such as the following nasty stuffs listed by the Retrevo report:

  • Lead in the glass of CRTs and cadmium in the CRT phosphors
  • PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) in transformers
  • Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) in plastics and printed circuit boards
  • Arsenic in some LEDs and printed circuit boards
  • Cadmium in NiCad batteries, toners and semiconductors
  • Lithium in Li-ion batteries
  • Mercury in some LCD backlights, and printed circuit boards
  • PVC in cable insulation and other plastics; when burned they release hydrogen chloride gas
  • Radioactive Americium in some smoke detectors

Bar chart showing recycling rates for plastic (77%), paper (75%), glass (63%), metal (52%), and electronics (42%)However, compared to the rates at which people  recycle plastics (77 percent of us do this regularly) and paper (75 percent), electronics recycling still isn’t a deeply ingrained habit: only 48 percent do it regularly.

Other survey findings: While only 31 percent of respondents always buy the greenest gadgets they can, another 23 percent feel guilty about buying less-green alternatives.

Only 42 percent of shoppers use energy ratings to help them buy the “greenest” gadgets, and young people (under 30) actually care less about these ratings than the over-30 set. That’s right, you whippersnappers: Enjoy the toxic, polluted, greenhouse-warmed Earth you will soon inherit.

Seriously, these numbers are good news. Add curbside recycling for electronics, and I think it’s a good bet that we could get gadget recycling to the same rates as other materials.


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