Death of Advanced Recycling Fee?

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

In the last few weeks, the issue of California’s e-waste recycling has become an increasingly prominent issue.  When speaking of US electronic waste rules, the general statement was “California is the only one with an advanced recycling fee (ARF)”, but their process seemed to work. After all, California’s e-waste laws have been in place much longer than e-waste legislation of other states. Unfortunately, it seems that California’s model of e-waste collection has unfortunately failed.

It seems that in 2002, when e-waste legislation was first considered and drafted, California also considered manufacturer responsibility legislation (Modesto Bee), which is currently used by 21 states. The voices of the tech industry, however, prevailed and California passed an e-waste recycling law requiring an advanced recycling fee (ARF). Given this legislation, when a customer purchases a new monitor or television, they are charged a fee (between $8 and $25), which should in turn be used to recycle the purchased equipment. The goal of the program was to provide a way for consumers to dispose of their electronics responsibly while providing funds for a green industry (Sacramento Bee). While the state had good intentions, no one could foresee the fraudulent activities that would take place.

Due to the amount of state-funding, hundreds of new electronics recyclers sprung up throughout the state (Merced Sun-Star). State officials passing the ARF legislation only counted on the environmental spirits in the state, but they did not foresee the greed that would take over the program. This has led to organizations importing electronics from Arizona and other neighboring states, in order to recycle the electronics within California and receive money for recycling such electronics products. To date, the state of California has paid approximately $320 million for electronics recycling, since the law’s passing in 2005 (Desert Dispatch). The state additionally recognizes that approximately $30 million have been used to recycle electronics which came in from other states, but it has rejected approximately $23 million of fraudulent claims. The Sacramento Bee offers a chart detailing California’s recyclers with the most claim denials.

Understandably, many are angered by the news and knowing their money is used to recycle e-waste  brought in from illegally other states. Environmentalists, however, have another problem with California’s law and its mistreatment – the disposal of usable monitors. California’s model makes it more enticing for people to recycle their “old” but usable monitors, instead of using them until they physically break or donating them to a charitable organization. ScrippsNews tackles this issue in their article “Mounds of usable computer monitors in Calif. dumps“.

So how can California handle this apparent fraud and misuse of their laws and funds? Will they change their laws to reflect other US states? If so, how long will this process take? What can be done in the meantime? These questions need answers – and soon! The failing system needs to go to the root of the problem, update legislation to meet these new challenges, and with proper care and maintenance, the system will be working better, more effectively, and should last for a very long time.

Data security of discarded electronics

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

One of the most common concerns regarding electronics recycling and disposal is the issue of data security. As people use online banking and other online payment system, the concern for data security is legitimate. Personally, I would not want to recycle a computer knowing that I may be risking identity theft – and I think that many will agree. The same also extends to larger companies and corporations, who may have very sensitive data on their computers, such as employee social security cards, proprietary information, detailed budget breakdowns and more. The need for data removal was pointed out in a New York Times article titled “Deleted but not Gone“.

So how does one secure data left in obsolete computers? There are three main options 1) “Soft” data removal, which keeps the hard drive in tact; 2) Physical hard drive destruction (hard drive + hammer = data security); 3) degaussing. No one will argue that physical hard drive destruction will lead to data security. Degaussing is also a way to remove data securely. Essentially, degaussing will de-magnetize the hard drive, destroying all the data and rendering the hard drive useless. “Soft” data destruction is a bit more contentious.

According to Peter Gutmann, data should be overwritten 35 times in order to effectively remove all data. Additionally, the US Department of Defense states that data should be erased and overwritten 7 times, in order to effectively remove all data. In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology offers detailed Guidelines for Media Sanitization. But which of these is correct, and is it possible to only erase data once in order for it to be effectively removed?

According to Lidija Davis, both Windows and Apple offer programs that will effectively remove all data. eHow lists Darik’s Boot and Nuke software as the main option to remove data securely while maintaining hard ware functionality. Additional data erasing software includes Active@Kill Disc Hard Drive Eraser, Acronis Disc Cleanser, and Blancco. Additional information about hard drive security and data erasure can be found through TechSoup Global’s article titled “Obliterate Hard-Drive Data with Disk-Wiping Software“.

The software deletion programs listed above are only some examples and should not be viewed as an advertisement or support for any software company or data removal method.

Where do I recycle my old electronics?

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

During the last few weeks, I have received an increasing number of emails asking where people can recycle their old electronics. If you search for this answer online, you will probably be bombarded with various possibilities to return the electronics to manufacturers, sell your electronics for some extra cash, recycle your old electronics for a charitable cause, or simply bring the electronics to a national retailer. Another option, of course, is to bring your old electronics to a state-run or -approved collection event. Sometimes, going through pages and pages of information is not only time consuming, but it is also overwhelming.

To save you a headache, I took on the task of finding various e-waste collection and recycling methods. You can view various Electronic Take-Back and Donation Programs in a neat, easy-to understand format. This spreadsheet groups various electronic collection and recycling organizations in the following categories: Retailer Recycling Programs, Manufacturer Take-Back Programs, Electronics Trade-In Programs, Electronic Donation/Charity Programs, and State Collection Programs.

Rather than only providing you with links, the spreadsheet also tells you if you can simply drop off your equipment at a location, or if the electronics can be simply mailed to a facility. In addition, you can also find out simply which electronics are accepted by the various organizations. More importantly, I have also included links to various data-erasure methods. A common concern many consumers have is the security of their data before they turn in their old electronics.

In order to erase personal information from cell phones, feel free to visit the following websites:

To remove personal information from computers, the following services are available:

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) does not endorse any specific data-erasing programs. The stated programs were listed for general consumer data and do not signify endorsement.

Did we leave anyone off? If we missed any electronic take-back organizations or charities, please let us know at

Three new state e-waste laws!

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

In the past two months, three new states have passed state-wide legislation requiring increased producer responsibility for the collection and proper disposal of electronic waste. Vermont was the first state to pass a new e-waste law in 2010. Shortly, South Carolina and New York State followed suit! This is fantastic news, as electronic waste is an increasing problem. At the moment, there are still seven other states which have proposed e-waste laws which will hopefully be passed in the next 6 to 12 months.

In my opinion, increased e-waste laws only indicate an increased interest in solving the current e-waste problem. Two of the states not only require e-waste collection, but they also impose a disposal ban on electronic equipment!

In Vermont, Act 079/S77 was passed in April of 2010 and takes effect on Jan. 1, 2011. Like all other extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws, the state requires electronics manufacturers, recyclers, retailers, and refurbishers of electronics to register with the state. If an organization is not registered, they will be unable to continue their business within the state of Vermont. The bill requires the collection and proper disposal of desktops, laptops, CRTs,  TVs, monitors, computer peripherals (keyboard, mice, etc.), and printers.

South Carolina’s HB 4093 was passed on May 19, 2010, and it takes affect on Jul. 1, 2011. Similar to the Vermont law, South Carolina also requires the state registration of electronic manufacturers, retailers, collectors, refurbishers, and recyclers. South Carolina requires the collection and disposal of desktops, laptops, CRTs, televisions and monitors. Unlike Vermont, South Carolina does not require the collection and disposal of computer peripherals and printers. Along with requiring the collection of electronics, South Carolina also included a disposal ban in the HB 4093 bill. The disposal ban forbids the disposal of computers, monitors, CTTs, televisions, and printers in municipal waste locations, starting on Jul 1, 2011.

Most recently, New York state has passed a comprehensive e-waste bill, which requires the registration of electronic manufacturers, collectors, recyclers, refurbishers, and retailers.The bill A 11308/S 7988, Title 27 requires proper disposal as well as enforces a disposal ban on the following electronics: televisions, monitors, desktops, laptops, computer peripherals, printers, and fax machines.

A detailed chart showing the differences between the various e-waste laws is available online on the SEI website. The chart may also be downloaded as a PDF.

30% of use still means there is 70% waste

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

Recently, AppleInsider published a story titled “Nearly 30% of Apple’s first-gen iPhones are still in use – report“. In short, the report mentions several statistics regarding the first generation iPhone. Please keep in mind that the first iPhone was released in June 2007, only to be replaced by the iPhone 3G in July 2008. That means that this phone was marketed (very well, if I remember correctly) for a mere 13 months.  The first generation iPhone sold 6.1 million units, which were  most likely all purchased within those 13 months. After all, why would someone want to buy an old version of a phone, if the newer, cooler, faster, sleeker model is available for a similar price?

The report names several other statistic, but I want to focus on the main statistic here. 30% of first generation iPhones are still being used. This means that 1.83 million first generation iPhones are still in use. And yes, that is a large number. However, 4.27 million is a greater number – this represents the amount of first generation iPhones that are no longer in use. What happened to these phones? Did they break? Did they suffer a fall that rendered them incapable of functioning correctly? I bet this happened only rarely. Instead, Apple came out with a new product. This product was superior to the previous generation of Apple products.  If my memory serves me correctly, since the introduction of the first generation iPhone, the world has also been introduced to two more generations of iPhones, as well as the iTouch and the brand new iPad. (And in related news: Apple Sold 1 million iPads in a month!)

While these new gadgets are a lot of fun, I am concerned about our lasting impact on the environment. The resources and natural capital needed to make these products is expensive, as well as environmentally hazardous. More importantly, the vast disposal and often improper disposal methods increase our need for a more sustainable system. However, Electronics Recyclers International CEO John Shegerian seems to disagree with me. In the article “Why the E-Waste Industry Love the iPad“, he mentions that this the iPad is a good thing.

I wonder if it is possible to allow designers to be creative and create new products, which would add to existing gadgets, instead of creating a desire for increased disposal and consumption of new products? Even if Apple, or any other electronics designer and manufacturer, would introduce a new performance-based, rather than product-based, model for their business and industry. We still have to convince consumers  that a cell phone, computer, or other electronic device can function to its full potential by simply maintaining the equipment, similar to the way you maintain your car, and possibly upgrading to a few new features. This would allow us to use our new gadgets until they actually fail, instead of only lasting as long as we think they are fun. For example, when the seats in your car start to wear down, do you get rid of your car and purchase a new one? Why can’t we have the same model for our electronics?

Apple is obviously concerned about their impact on the environment, as they have published information about the carbon emissions related to their products. By performing such analyses, one only hopes that Apple designers and engineers will be able to make products which will improve their products by leaving a lower environmental footprint. But I do want to encourage Apple and other electronic recyclers to research the life cycle impacts of their products, and consider not only the design of their products, but also the lasting environmental impact their products will leave on the Earth and future generations.

The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Responsible Recycling (R2) and e-Stewards are the two major programs that certify electronic recyclers as responsible according to their own standards.  Redemtech, a recycler, reporter of e-waste news, and prominent contributor to e-Stewards (developed by a company called BAN,) has recently released a report comparing these two programs. The report is called E-Waste Recycling Standards: A Side-by-Side Comparison of e-Stewards and R2.  Just as the subtitle suggests, the Redemtech report shows a point-by-point comparison of e-Stewards and R2. Out of the 18 categories Redemtech has e-Stewards looking favorable in each and every one. So according to their report, R2 in no way compares to e-Stewards.

Is R2 really that bad? R2 was facilitated by the U.S. EPA and developed by ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc, which represents the Recycling industry so was the recycler’s view overly considered? I took a look at what Redemtech had to say.

Continue reading “The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2”

Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), part of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), is hosting their first electronics and sustainability symposium. The event will be he held on February 23 and 24, 2010 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center.

Continue reading “Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment”

Electronics Recycling Responsibility

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

When talking about electronics recycling, most people would agree that it is a good idea. As a matter of fact, I am also confident that if you told people there is a place close to them which offers responsible electronics recycling, they would be more than happy to recycle old computers, cell phones, etc. But what happens when you ask someone to pay to have something recycled? Then the idea of recycling does not look nearly as appealing as before. This raises a very good question – who is responsible for electronics recycling?

This is a much-debated issue in the electronics world. Let’s face it–if a consumer paid a substantial amount of money for a computer, he or she will not be thrilled with the idea of paying more money to dispose of the computer. For many individuals in such a case, the option of storing an old computer sounds better than recycling it for a fee. Manufacturers are also not jumping for joy to recycle and dispose of electronic components with their money. So, once again, whose responsibility is it? Continue reading “Electronics Recycling Responsibility”

A satirical and very true view of the e-waste problem

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

The Onion is a very popular, purely fictional and extremely satirical website. The Onion usually consists of stories whose point is only to amuse, with stories such as “Most College Males Admit to Regularly Getting Stoked”. As topics become more interesting to media outlets, The Onion is usually there to make fun of those same topics with their dead-pan sarcasm. While amusing, most of their articles have never struck a particular chord with me until their article titled “New Device Desirable, Old Device Undesirable”. Continue reading “A satirical and very true view of the e-waste problem”