Mail-In Programs Offer Contactless Electronics Recycling to US Businesses, Residents

As societies across the globe continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many US counties and municipalities, as well as recycling businesses and retail collection points, have either suspended electronics recycling programs or greatly modified procedures to protect the health of their staff and the public.  For example, Best Buy has suspended its popular recycling service, the spring electronics collection in Champaign County (IL) had to be canceled, and although Will County (IL) electronics collections continue to operate, they do so with certain guidelines to minimize interpersonal contact.

In response to our changing realities, some companies are offering new mail-in programs to help residents and businesses responsibly manage their electronics at end-of-life while exercising caution and maintaining social distancing.

TERRA (The Electronics Reuse and Recycling Alliance) offers mail-in residential electronics recycling through its “Done with IT” program. Through this program, consumers can purchase pre-paid mailing labels for a given weight of acceptable items. Unwanted electronics can then be packed in reused boxes (the program does not provide packaging) and shipped via UPS. This service is available throughout much of North America–see their service map for details.  The program works with certified electronics recyclers to ensure data security for participants. The Done with IT program existed pre-pandemic but has continued to expand to new locations during the pandemic.

ERI has recently launched a mail-in recycling box program applicable to both residential and business electronic scrap. Like the Done with IT program, shipments are made via UPS, but unlike the Done with IT program, boxes are shipped flat to the consumer for use, and service is available for all 50 states.  From the press release related to the program:

ERI, the nation’s leading fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company currently provides the only NAID, R2, and e-Stewards certified secure-at-home (or office) box program in the United States. The program provides contactless, transparent delivery and pickup. All collected electronics are responsibly recycled and all data is securely destroyed. ERI’s home and business electronics recycling box program is available to individuals and businesses in all 50 states, at every zip code in the country…The boxes are shipped flat directly to the customer with an included return label. Customers can then assemble, fill, and return the boxes whenever convenient, with a simple call to ERI’s logistics partner, UPS.

Of course, other mail-in options for certain types of electronic materials existed before the pandemic and continue. Call2Recycle and Battery Solutions, for example, both offer battery recycling programs. TerraCycle has locations available for its free electronics recycling program.

Consumers should check with their local recycling coordinators to determine whether electronics recycling solutions exist in their area. Mail-in programs such as these may be particularly helpful in areas where local options are limited or temporarily suspended.

New on the SEI Website: Spring 2015

Check out the following updates and resources added this spring on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative web site. If you have any questions, or would like to make suggestions for additions to the SEI site, please contact Joy Scrogum. Don’t forget to subscribe to the SEI Blog and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay current with sustainable electronics issues!

New “Lessons” Page:

We’ve added a “Lessons” page to the “Education” section of our site for interactive lessons on various sustainable electronics topics. Check out “The Secret Life of Electronics” to explore some of the environmental and social impacts of electronic products.

SEI Publications:

Teaching Sustainability with Electronics. January 2015.

Updates to Law & Policy pages:

A link to the controversial Executive Order 13693 (Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade) has been added to the U.S. Federal Legislation page. Effective March 19, 2015, this executive order is notable in its lack of any mention of the EPEAT registry tied to federal procurement preferences. For nearly a decade prior, 95% of electronics purchased by federal agencies were required to be EPEAT registered. The omission was met with criticism and concern from environmental and sustainability advocates, but the Green Electronics Council, which administers the EPEAT registry, has expressed confidence that federal agencies will continue to use the registry as a purchasing tool, since doing so is not precluded by the new executive order. UPDATE, 6/18/15: Implementation instructions for this Executive Order, dated June 10, 2015, make it clear that EPEAT is the only existing tool to achieve the electronic stewardship mandates of the order. This allays the fears of those who thought the omission of direct mention of EPEAT in the order would lead to weakening or failure as a tool for environmentally preferable purchasing. For more information, see the Resource Recycling article Federal government sticks with EPEAT after all.

A link to IL HB 1455 was added under “Pending State & Local Legislation” on the U.S. State & Local Legislation page. This bill has passed the state House and Senate and is awaiting the signature of Governor Bruce Rauner. Synopsis As Introduced: “Amends the Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act. Provides that a manufacturer may count the total weight of a cathode ray tube device, prior to processing, towards its goal under this Section if all recyclable components are removed from the device and the cathode ray tube glass is managed in a manner that complies with all Illinois Environmental Protection Agency regulations for handling, treatment, and disposition of cathode ray tubes. Provides that, for specified categories of electronic devices, each manufacturer shall recycle or reuse at least 80% (was at least 50%) of the total weight of the electronic devices that the manufacturer sold in that category in Illinois during the calendar year 2 years before the applicable program year. Provides that a registered recycler or a refurbisher of CEDs and EEDs for a manufacturer obligated to meet goals may not charge individual consumers or units of local government acting as collectors a fee to recycle or refurbish CEDs and EEDs, unless the recycler or refurbisher provides (i) a financial incentive, such as a coupon, that is of greater or equal value to the fee being charged or (ii) premium service, such as curbside collection, home pick-up, drop-off locations, or a similar methods of collection. Provides that, in program year 2015, and each year thereafter, if the total weight of CEDs and EEDs recycled or processed for reuse by the manufacturer is less than 100% of the manufacturer’s individual recycling or reuse goal set forth in a specified provision of the Act, the manufacturer shall pay a penalty equal to the product of (i) $0.70 per pound; multiplied by (ii) the difference between the manufacturer’s individual recycling or reuse goal and the total weight of CEDs and EEDs recycled or processed for reuse by the manufacturer during the program year. Effective immediately.”

A link to the text of the Minnesota bill HF 1412 was also added under “Pending State & Local Legislation” on the U.S. State & Local Legislation page. This bill, introduced by Rep. Frank Hornstein on March 4, 2015, would change the determination of e-scrap collection requirements for manufacturers. Currently, manufacturers fund the MN electronics recycling program with contributions based on volume of equipment sold in the state annually. According to the Product Stewardship Institute, the new bill would ‘change the state’s reuse and recycling goals every year in response to changing weights and quantities of electronic products sold and recycled. [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] will publish a new recycling goal each year based on the sum of the average weight of the electronic devices collected for recycling in the preceding two years.’ The bill additionally proposes to broaden the state’s electronics disposal ban, which currently only bans CRTs from landfills. If passed, the amended disposal ban would include products such as cellphones, video game consoles and computers and computer peripherals.

A few of the new items in the SEI Resource Compilations. (Items are added all the time, so check the web site often.):

Redefining scope: the true environmental impact of smartphones: The aim of this study is to explore the literature surrounding the environmental impact of mobile phones and the implications of moving from the current business model of selling, using and discarding phones to a product service system based upon a cloud service. The exploration of the impacts relating to this shift and subsequent change in scope is explored in relation to the life cycle profile of a typical smartphone.

MeterHero: MeterHero is a sustainability exchange where you can offset your water and energy use by purchasing savings from local homes, schools, and buildings. People who conserve earn income and help save the planet. The MeterHero dashboard allows users to track their water, electric and gas usage, and money earned by reducing usage.

Carbon Nanotubes in Electronics: Background and Discussion for Waste-Handling Strategies: Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are increasingly being used in electronics products. CNTs have unique chemical and nanotoxicological properties, which are potentially dangerous to public health and the environment. This report presents the most recent findings of CNTs’ toxicity and discusses aspects related to incineration, recycling and potential remediation strategies including chemical and biological remediation possibilities. Our analysis shows that recycling CNTs may be challenging given their physiochemical properties and that available strategies such as power-gasification methods, biological degradation and chemical degradation may need to be combined with pre-handling routines for hazardous materials. The discussion provides the background knowledge for legislative measures concerning specialized waste handling and recycling procedures/facilities for electronics products containing CNTs.

Precarious Promise: A Case Study of Engineered Carbon NanotubesIn just over two decades since the discovery of carbon nanotubes, technologies relying on engineered CNTs have developed at warp speed. Current and anticipated uses of engineered CNTs are numerous and diverse: sporting equipment, solar cells, wind turbines, disk drives, batteries, antifouling paints for boats, flame retardants, life-saving medical devices, drug delivery technologies, and many more. Some have suggested that every  feature of life as we know it is or will be impacted by the discovery and use of CNTs. Despite uncertainty about how these entirely new materials may affect living systems, CNTs have largely been a case of “forget precaution, get to production.” Concern for human health and the environment has been overwhelmed by the promise of profits and progress. Financial support for nanomaterial research and commercial development has vastly outpaced funding of environmental health and safety and sustainable design research on these materials. And with limited understanding of how these structures — small enough to penetrate cells — will interact with humans and other life forms, use of CNTs is proliferating with few systems in place to protect people or the environment. Warning signs have emerged, however. CNTs share important physical characteristics with ultrafine air pollution particles as well as with asbestos fibers — both recognized as seriously toxic. Mounting numbers of toxicological studies now demonstrate irreversible health effects in laboratory animals, but it is unclear whether similar effects have occurred in humans exposed at work or through environmental releases. The growing literature on toxic effects of CNTs also make clear that the environmental and human health impacts may vary radically, depending on specific chemical and physical characteristics of the engineered nanomaterial. While some CNTs appear to be highly hazardous, it remains possible that others may pose little threat. Is it possible to gain the benefits of CNTs with minimal risk by ensuring the use of the safest alternatives for a particular application?  (PDF Format; Length: 36 pages)


Registration Ends November 1st for International Sustainable Electronics Competition

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

The International Sustainable Electronics Competition is currently underway and any students interested in entering have until 4:59 pm Central time on November 1, 2013 to complete their entries. The competition is operated by the Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center . For this competition, participants explore ideas to address the social and environmental impacts of electronics, and contribute to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design for current and future technology products. Entries can be made in one of two categories“Product” and “Non-product”–with criteria that incorporate the ideas of reuse and prevention throughout. This allows for students of all disciplines to participate in ways to reduce the generation of electronic waste and extend electronic product life cycles.

Teamwork across disciplines, backgrounds, and ages is encouraged. One entry per person or team (5 person maximum) is allowed. The competition is open to current college and university students as well as recent graduates from universities around the world. Registration is FREE. Expert jurors  award cash prizes to the top three projects in each category. Don’t miss the submission deadline is November 1, 2013 at 4:59 Central time. Winners will be announced on December 5th.

Entries must include an original video composition uploaded to YouTube, along with supporting materials uploaded to the registration page of the competition web site. See the competition web site,, for details on registration requirements.

Champaign County Electronics Collection Event October 12, 2013

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

Do you have electronics piling up in your garage or other storage area? Wonder what you can do with them? You are in luck. The Champaign County Electronics Collection event is coming up on October 12, 2013. This is a free drop off for specific items such as: televisions, computers and laptops, computer monitors, keyboards, mice, cables, printers and scanners, radio and stereos, VCRs and DVD Players, mobile phones, office electronics, digital camera, communication devices, microwaves, and gaming systems.  There is a limit of 10 items per resident.  Many recyclers have stopped accepting TVs and computer monitors because of the problem of proper recycling of the CRT (leaded glass) in those units, so this event is a perfect opportunity to get rid of those items now. The event is being held at 3202 Apollo Drive (News-Gazette Distribution Center) in Champaign from 8 a.m. to 12 noon and will be held rain or shine. If you participate in the county’s recycling survey, you could enter to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Visit to complete the survey. For more information on the Illinois landfill ban, please see the Illinois IEPA website.

There are other businesses that accept electronics during the year including: Goodwill (912 W. Anthony Drive, Champaign, 217.359.8729 and  111 Calvin Street, Savoy, 217.290.1864), Habitat for Humanity ReStore (119 E. University Avenue, Champaign, 217.355.6460), Marco Steel* (302 S. Market Street, Champaign, 217.352.4707), Mack’s Twin City Recycling* (2808 N. Lincoln Avenue, Urbana, 217.328.2100), Green Purpose* (807 Pioneer Street, Champaign, 217.954.1450), Best Buy* (2117 N. Prospect Avenue, Champaign, 217.352.8883), Office Depot* (111 Convenience Center, Champaign, 217.373.5202), Staples* ( 2005 N. Prospect Avenue, Champaign, (217.373.8490). There are restriction on items accepted at locations with an asterisk (*), so it is advisable to call first.

Juror Spotlight – Bill Olson

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

We are grateful to Bill Olson, Director of Sustainability and Stewardship for Motorola Mobile Devices for his long-term commitment to the International Sustainable Electronics Competition. Bill has been with us since the beginning, serving as a juror four times since the competition began as a local event on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign back in 2009. He has been a juror more than any other individual, sitting out only for the 2010 competition (for more information on past competitions, see our online competition archives). Despite his busy schedule, he has provided valuable feedback on numerous competition entries over the years, and has presented at two past SEI symposia on his work at Motorola.

In his role at Motorola, Bill drives go-to-market strategy for green mobile device products and technologies, and has championed the adoption of ECOMOTO principles across several Motorola business units. ECOMOTO focuses on the realization of environmentally sound, seamless Motorola mobile products and seeks to deliver sustained business impact through green materials and innovative ecodesign practices as can be found in the world’s first carbon free phones built with post consumer recycled plastic: W233 RENEW and MOTOCUBO A45 ECO and the world’s first “green” android phones introduced in 2010 – CITRUS and SPICE.

Bill started the ECOMOTO initiative during his previous role in Motorola Corporate Research, where he headed labs dedicated to International and Environmental Research. Bill’s team in Europe conducted testing on hundreds of Motorola products to ensure they met environmental regulatory requirements of the EU (WEEE/RoHS), American and Asian markets. His lab in China worked closely with manufacturing, engineering and the supply chain to achieve improvements in factory productivity, yield and product reliability.

We value Bill’s input because he is directly involved with innovation everyday and understands what it takes to get a great concept to market in today’s world.  With 23 U.S. patents and more than 40 publications, Bill is a guru in his field. Thanks, Bill, for all of your support!

Juror Spotlight – Lynn Rubinstein

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

The International Sustainable Electronics Competition would like to welcome new juror, Lynn Rubinstein, Executive Director of the Northeast Recycling Council and Founder/Program Manager of the State Electronics Challenge. Lynn has been actively engaged in electronics recycling issues for more than 15 years. The  State Electronics Challenge encourages state, tribal, regional, and local governments, including schools to responsibly manage office equipment by purchasing greener office equipment, reduction the impact  during use, and managing obsolete electronics in an environmentally safe way.

Lynn’s dedication to the area of recycling and electronics is apparent as she is also the co-founder of the Electronics Recycling  Coordination Clearinghouse and is a founding Board member and Chair of  R2 Solutions. It is this dedication as well as her Juris Doctor from Southwestern University School of Law that we find so valuable to the competition and we are looking forward to Lynn’s perspective on this year’s entries.

Competition ‘Veteran’ from University of Limerick Pursues Interest in E-Waste Reuse

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

Damian Coughlan is no stranger to the International Sustainable Electronics Competition. For two years in a row, the now Ph.D. researcher at the University of Limerick has won a Silver award for his entry Loopbook (2012) and as part of a bigger team with the entry Laptop Design for the Future (2011).

We recently caught up with Damian to see how the competition has affected his educational and career aspirations.  Coughlan stated, “Receiving the Silver Award in this competition has had a huge impact on my current circumstances. Since graduating with my degree in August 2012 I have received a scholarship to continue research towards a PhD. The funding is being provided by the Irish Research Council and the European Recycling Platform. I had mentioned the award from 2012 as part of my application and I have no doubt that these awards helped me considerably. I have now started the PhD in Sustainability since October 2012. I visited TU Delft in the past week to gather some feedback for my research and my presentation featured my awards which definitely helped raise my profile. My current research is looking at the subject of electronic waste [and] the possibilities of reusing the waste in a different context.”

This year, as an optional extension of the competition, the UIUC Technology Entrepreneur Center  has offered to provide constructive  feedback to students who opt-in as part of their submission. This advice is not a means of taking a concept to market, but is offered as a resource for entrants to explore furthering their concept with appropriate resources. When we asked Damian about his plans for Loopbook, he stated, “Regarding the Loopbook, I had considered the option of bringing it to market but currently I feel there are too many barriers to be overcome by technology before the Loopbook could be ready as a consumer product. However I do still think that it could be a great idea if it could be fully developed. I do think the option of bringing a possible product to market would be great outlet for the competition and innovation.”

We wish Damian the best in his Ph.D. studies and research. We know he will be someone to look out for in the future of innovative computing technologies.

As a reminder, registration for this year’s competition opens on September 1, 2013. See the competition web site for complete details. Registration is free, and cash prizes are awarded.

Juror Spotlight – Professor William Bullock

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

The International Sustainable Electronics Competition is delighted to welcome UIUC Industrial Design Professor and Product Interaction Research Laboratory (PIRL) Director William Bullock back to the competition in his new role as juror. Professor Bullock  was the founder of the original competition in 2009 on the University of Illinois campus. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in product design and development for over a decade and recently developed the first course at UIUC on sustainable product design. He collaborated with engineering colleagues to develop a course on the topic of electronic waste (e-waste) and organized the annual international electronic waste (e-waste) design competition, which is now known as the International Sustainable Electronics Competition. His career spans three decades as an academician, administrator and practitioner, and includes the direction and advancement of industrial design programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Georgia Institute of Technology, and Auburn University. He is an active Fellow in the Industrial Designers Society of America, and a National Association of Schools of Art and Design accreditation evaluator. Bill has served several terms on the IDSA National Education Council and is current Chair of its SAGE section and Vice Chair of the Design Foundation.

PIRL links education and research design in the classroom where advanced students from engineering, design and marketing collaborate to conduct product development studies for industry. As an affiliate faculty member with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) his current research focuses on design for the environment and development of sustainable product designs. At ISTC he has helped build the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), which is dedicated to the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, reusing, remanufacturing, and recycling electronic devices.

We feel that Professor Bullock will add a unique perspective to this year’s competition as someone who has special ties to the competition and appreciates the growth and direction it’s taken since it’s inception.

The Challenge of Teaching Sustainable Electronics to Elementary Students

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

When I first started at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) last year, it took me a while to wrap my head around all that is involved with sustainable electronics. As an environmental educator it quickly became clear that I had to figure out a way to translate this information and its environmental connections and concerns to learners of all ages. At first, I thought this material would not be appropriate for students younger than middle or high school because of the concepts behind circuits, conflict minerals, and toxic materials. I soon learned that I needed to alter my thinking and come up with ways to present this to an audience we meet with frequently–elementary students.

Two events helped me with my perspective on teaching in this area. The first was the Naturally Illinois Expo. Learners of all ages attend the Expo every year to see presentations by the scientists at the five Illinois Scientific Surveys (Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological SurveyIllinois State Water SurveyIllinois State Geological Survey, and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center). Many of the elementary schools from the East Central Illinois area attend the Expo to see science in action. After some initial observations, I realized that elementary school aged students understand the value behind precious metals (found in many electronics) and neurotoxins when the word is broken down and explained. Once students realize that there are precious metals and neurotoxins found in electronics, the importance and needs related to the environment, personal health, and recycling become very clear.

The second event was when Joy Scrogum and I were asked to teach a hands-on lesson for two hours about sustainable electronics to a group of mostly second grade girls. We felt a true test on the horizon. There were challenges and barriers  we had to overcome. First, there were a number of small and potentially hazardous parts to be found in something as simple as a cell phone, so displaying those parts was troublesome. We often carry around two keyboards to different outreach events. One is an older model that has a full circuit board and the other is a newer, lighter version with a plastic sheet circuit board (see below). Those visuals helped, but the older circuit board has sharp solder points, so it is not conducive to hands-on activities.

Circuit board of older keyboards.
Modern Keyboard
Lighter weight keyboard with plastic circuit.

It came down to a variety of approaches on the topic starting with a discussion of what would happen if they had lost their personal game devices. Since students felt an emotional attachment to their devices, the students were able to see their own value in making sure they take care of them. We presented a short video from a PBS show (Loops and Scoops) on the materials found in game devices and the problem with disposal of electronics. We briefly presented the number of miles it took for the parts of an electronic gadget  like a laptop or game device to be assembled and shipped to them. We talked about the solutions and problems associated with electronic items and the current landfill ban in Illinois. Finally, we presented them with some of the concepts that college students have submitted to our annual International Sustainable Electronics Competition . Then we challenged them to create a new electronic device out of old electronics that would otherwise be discarded. It took some time and collaboration, but then the ideas were flowing and the girls were excited to draw what they would invent with discarded electronics. One of my favorites was a device that could be hooked up to the carrier of one of the girl’s cats that would translate her “meows” to human speech. The girl thought it would be a great way to know what her cat wants and she could communicate to her cat in return. Genius.

A second grader’s idea on how to recreate a new electronic from other electronics.

The picture above was from girl who seemed to grasp the concept that everyone seems to lose the remote control but not their phones, so why not have your cell phone double as device to change the television channels?

Keyboard beads made from broken keyboards collected for recycling by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We finished the class with an activity that required a lot of preparation on on our part. Keyboard keys can be made into personalized bracelets. It required removal of back posts and drilling holes to feed string through the keys, but they are always a big hit. The girls were particularly happy to see that we had created kits with the letters of their names and extra decorative beads for “bling.” Overall, we achieved our goal presenting sustainable electronics to students at a grade school level. I’m sure modifications will be made to improve the format of the day if we take another opportunity to present, but we feel the activities were appropriate and enjoyable.

HDTVs Now Meet EPEAT Standards

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

As of April 2, 2013 high definition televisions are part of the greener electronics family of EPEAT. LG and Samsung, who contribute to one third of the global shipments and revenues, are  major participating companies.  Televisions must meet 24 performance evaluation criteria to be included in the EPEAT registry. Some of the criteria include life cycle basis, elimination of toxic substances, use of recycled and recyclable materials, design for recycling, product longevity, energy efficiency, corporate performance and packaging. The inclusion of TVs comes shortly after the approval of imaging equipment like scanners or copiers.

According to the EPEAT blog, “Since 2006, purchasers choosing EPEAT-registered electronics over products that don’t meet the system’s criteria have eliminated greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 11 million U.S. vehicles’ annual impact, avoided more than 394,000 metric tons of hazardous waste and reduced solid waste by nearly 167,000 metric tons – equivalent to  nearly 86,000 U.S. households’ annual waste.”

For more information, visit the the EPEAT blogGreen Tech Advocates, and Environmental Leader