An industry-led initiative to persuade consumers to recycle used PCs and mobile phones this week brought together US government, academia, non-profit organisations and electronic manufacturers.
The issue of what to do with PCs in particular, which average a life span of just a few years, was the focus of the Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling (EPR2) Conference sponsored by the National Safety Council (NCS) and the International Association of Electronic Recyclers (IAER).
According to a study by the NCS, in 1998, the latest year for which figures are available, more than 20 million PCs became obsolete in the US alone, of which only 2.3 million units, or 11 per cent, were recycled.
Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) president Dave McCurdy talked during his keynote about the EIA's Consumer Education Initiative (CEI) and other voluntary end-of-life initiatives.
"It is essential that the US high-tech industry proactively developa programs to preserve and protect the environment, and the Consumer Education Initiative is a big step in that direction," McCurdy said.
"Our goal is to lessen the environmental impacts of our products throughout their entire life cycle, from design to end-of-life."
He said the CEI is a web-based information resource that provides consumers with recycling and re-use information for used electronics. The CEI effort set up a website, www.eiae.org, that directs users to local charities, schools, neighbourhoods and community manufacturers with recycling programs.
"We've found that consumers don't want to simply throw away their old PCs, but they don't know what to do with them," he said.
During the conference, electronics retailer Best Buy announced its plans to be the first US retailer to offer a broad-based electronics recycling drop-off program. The company will roll out the program this summer with plans to involve local governments, recyclers and electronics manufacturers. According to Best Buy, Panasonic has already signed on as the first manufacturing partner.
Aside from the conference, vendors such as IBM and Dell have already launched recycling and re-use programs. IBM, for instance, announced that for a minimum fee consumers and small businesses can recycle any manufacturer's PC, including monitors, printers and peripherals.
Dell initiated the DellExchange program, which offers consumers the choice of a trade-in, sale or donation of older PCs, whatever the brand.
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