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Electronics Retailers Receive Fs on Recycling Report Card

July 18, 2013

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Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot are the only three major electronics retailers making a serious effort to help consumers recycle their old electronic products, says a report card released yesterday by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

While the three companies earned high marks on the report card, more than half of the 16 retailers flunked, including retail giants such as Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club and Sears. The coalition say that these retailers are doing very little to help recycle the billions of dollars in electronics that they sell.

Some retailers offer trade-in programs for high-value items like tablets and cell phones, but not for larger low-value items like  TVs, printers, VCRs and DVD players. The coalition says it does not count the trade-in programs as being equivalents of recycling, since consumers have to take the trouble to ship the trade-in back — few offer in-store options — and the programs only work for select high-value items.

The report card evaluated the retailers’ programs against 20 criteria, including convenience, transparency, collection volumes and responsible recycling. Chief among the findings:

  • Only three of the retailers (19 percent) have effective recycling programs, meaning they take back all or most of the 13 categories studied and offer physical collection sites.
  • Nine of the 16 retailers got Fs (56 percent), because they either have no recycling program or they take back only one item.
  • While all 16 retailers sell TVs, only two (12 percent) — Best Buy and Micro Center —  take them back for recycling at their stores. Yet TVs are the items for which consumers have the most difficulty finding recycling options and will never mail back.
  • Nine retailers offer trade-in programs, but only two of them — Best Buy and Radio Shack — let you bring trade-in items back to their stores. The others require consumers to ship their old products back to the trade-in vendor for credit.
  • Six of the 16 (37 percent) retailers are using certified e-Stewards for their recycling or trade-in. The e-Steward standard does not allow vendors to export toxic e-waste to developing countries.

The Texas Campaign for the Environment, a coalition member, has singled out Walmart for not doing enough in Texas to promote electronics recycling. With lawmakers in the state introducing bills that will require big box retailers to step up to the plate, Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign, says Walmart should increase its recycling efforts before the law forces it to do so.

Making it a legal requirement does boost recycling, as demonstrated by New York State. A report by the Product Stewardship Institute for the Natural Resources Defense Council says that easier consumer access to scrap electronics collection sites, spurred by manufacturer funding, has contributed to an increase in e-waste recycling and a decrease in government spending in the state.

The evaluation of the New York State Electronics Producer Responsibility Law, published earlier this week, found in the first partial year of the law’s implementation, which began April 1, 2011 and ended Dec. 31, 2011, the number of electronics take-back sites had increased by 77 percent across the state, and more than 44 million pounds of scrap electronics were collected. The report says the law saved local governments millions, if not tens of millions, of dollars, by shifting the financial burden of post-consumer product management away from municipalities and toward producers.


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