Which works best for getting people to actually take advantage of recycling initiatives: a carrot or a stick?
The reason many high-tech companies, especially those of the consumer electronics variety are developing recycling strategies is usually tied to the fines they'll pay if they don't get involved. But the smartest ones are incenting participation by rewards, including gift cards that consumers can use toward new products. "If I'm looking to recycle something, I'm high up on the food chain as far as buying a new product," observes Ron Gonen, chief executive of RecycleBank. (The company handles recycling of lots of different materials; it gives consumers points for turning in certain items, sort of like a frequent flyer program.)
Gonen and several other technology recycling executives participated on a panel at the recent Greener Gadgets conference, held by the Consumer Electronics Association. The group predicted a boom in new programs over the next 12 months, citing state laws that are cropping up all over the United States. Increasingly, charitable organizations such as GoodWill Industries (which has a major partnership with Dell) and others are becoming involved.
The biggest challenge, they say, lies in encouraging more retailers to get on board with initiatives to cut back on the amount of stuff that has to be recycled in the first place. A prime example: The ridiculous waste of packaging that is included with things like itsy-bitsy thumb drives. The problem is that smaller packaging represents not just a challenge for retail merchandising, it also increases the potential for theft.
Will there one day be a federal system for recycling technology products?
For now, the answer is probably not, given the fact that trash collection is generally considered to be a local issue. But expect a growing number of states (there are now about 17) to subject purchases of new electronics equipment and technology to fees for covering their future recycling.
It's worth pointing out the recycling companies that participated on this panel aside from RecycleBank, because they may have some relevance for your future recycling plans. They included:
- ReCellular, which collects used cell phones in bulk using reverse auction software (about a half-million phones per month, the last time I talked to them).
- Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corp., which handles batteries that have given up the ghost.