Retail e-recycling report card

recycled computers
Photo by Sims Metal Management

North Americans purchase billions of dollars of electronics products annually, from smart phones and tablet computers to big-screen television sets. Some products are designed to last for years, while others go in and out of fashion – and into the bin of obsolete gadgets as quickly as technology changes.

Who, of all the major retailers selling these products, is doing the best job of accommodating and encouraging e-recycling?

The U.S.-based Electronics Takeback Coalition recently assessed 16 of the top consumers’ electronics retailers who together represent more than $115 billion in retail revenues.

The coalition reviewed the types of electronics sold, the existence of mail-back programs and/or on-site recycling collection depots, and which items retailers take back. They also looked at how much is actually coming back and to what extent retailers disclose this information.

Out of the 16 retailers examined, only three – Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot – have made what could be called a serious effort to encourage electronics recycling, earning a grade of B+, B and B, respectively. They are the only retailers that take back virtually every electronics category they sell, with the exception in some cases of TVs.

“Most of the other retailers lag far behind these three leaders,” the coalition reported in its Retailers Recycling Report Card, released in July. “Nine of the 16 we researched have no real recycling program, including Walmart and Amazon, which (in the U.S.) are the second- and third-biggest electronics retailers, after Best Buy.”

Costco, Sam’s Club, Sears and TigerDirect were some of the other well-known retailers who received an F grade. Some technically have recycling programs, “but they keep them secret,” the report said, adding: “Sears has the most secret recycling program.”

On the issue of transparency, only Best Buy, Office Depot, Office Max and Staples disclosed their recycling volumes to the coalition. None publicly posts this information on company websites.

The report made specific mention of online retailers and their lack of physical stores. “We don’t think that means they should take no responsibility for helping their customers recycle,” said the coalition, pointing to Amazon.com.

“They have figured out how to provide physical drop-off locations for the products they are selling… Why couldn’t they apply the same kind of logistics ingenuity to a recycling collection system?”

A better effort is needed, it said, citing data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showing that only 25 per cent of all e-waste gets recycled.

Latest from Leadership

current issue