Debate over state electronics recycling laws has reached new heights in recent years, and the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that help fund the programs have been at the center of the discussion.
At September’s E-Scrap Conference in New Orleans, OEMs from some of the world’s largest electronics companies took to the stage and argued they were helping advance the recovery of e-scrap even as state laws hindered their ability to do so efficiently.
Speakers on the panel answered questions submitted by attendees, but the session ended before all queries could be addressed. To keep the conversation going, representatives from Sony and Dell agreed to offer their perspectives on some of the topics that didn’t get discussed.
The following Q&A was constructed from written responses provided by Beth Johnson, manager of U.S. legislative and compliance programs at Dell, and Doug Smith, director of corporate environment, safety and health for Sony Electronics.
E-Scrap News: What electronics will we be talking about recycling ten years from now? Wearables? Home monitoring systems? Solar panels? Others?
Doug Smith: CRTs will be front and center – just kidding, although I’m not sure we’ll see another product with such a long legacy.
This is a good question and if we look at the circular economy, the relationship between customers and OEMs may evolve toward a “product as a service” business model. Under this model, the OEM would retain ownership of its devices, essentially leasing them to customers and getting them back after use. This would be wonderful because OEMs would finally get rewarded under EPR for good product design, such as lightweighting and the elimination of toxics.
Why is the current industry discussion not focused on responsible recycling vs. non-responsible recycling? What are OEMs doing to ensure responsible recycling? Why not publicize downstream partners?
Beth Johnson: Dell’s environmental policies are posted on our website. The names of our contracted environmental partners are not publicly disclosed due to the competitive nature of business-to-business asset recovery services.
Smith: The responsible goal is always to protect human health and reduce environmental impact, but recycling isn’t always the responsible choice.
Plastics, steel, aluminum and other non-toxics can have multiple lives in different products. Lead from car batteries are also commonly reformed into new car batteries. But problem toxics, such as lead oxide in CRT glass, has no future value and its environmental cost to capture the lead is greater than extracting new lead from mining.
The irresponsible act of introducing lead into products that don’t need lead is unconscionable. CRT glass should be captured, arrested and either disposed as hazardous waste or put to beneficial use in a secure process never to be released again.
How do you connect your design teams with your recycling and repair vendors?
Johnson: Designing for recycling and repair has been core to Dell’s business since the beginning. We regularly take our design engineers to meet recyclers so they can consider in the design phase the requirements and processes at end of life. See two recent Ars Technica and Anthropocene articles for additional details on this approach and work.
Can you name an environmentally sound facility or technology for managing CCFL LCD monitors?
Smith: CCFLs are the same as common fluorescent lamps, just thinner. These are easily recycled using the same infrastructure. Good recyclers will put in place procedures to minimize breakage and have systems in place to monitor mercury.
A recent Consumer Technology Association survey indicates around 20 percent of CRT monitors and TVs are discarded in trash. Is that a surprising number?
Johnson: Consumers have a responsibility to seek out and use the take-back options for unwanted electronics that manufacturers make available. The Consumer Technology Association maintains a website with thousands of electronics recycling opportunities throughout country. Specific to Dell, we offer free consumer recycling in 78 countries and territories around the world, with more than 2,000 convenient locations in the United States through Dell Reconnect, our partnership with Goodwill. We have achieved 80 percent of our voluntary goal to recover 2 billion pounds of used electronics by 2020.
Would all OEMs consider coming together to support a national drive to get old TVs and monitors out of basements, etc?
Smith: Majority would, but costs have to be fairly allocated.
Johnson: We believe producers should take responsibility for their share of the e-waste generated in their own product categories. We support collective solutions where industry stakeholders work together to establish common collection networks to increase the volumes of products collected, assuming program costs are proportionate to the manufacturer’s market share of their product categories.
Would you support a legislative model where the cost of physical recycling is sponsored by OEM while cost of agency oversight is paid by the consumer?
Smith: Let’s be clear – the customer is paying the full cost. How those costs are visible or hidden is irrelevant to the big picture. Under a shared responsibility, which Sony has supported for 20 years, the manufacturer’s role is to recover raw materials from spent products and incorporate these recovered materials into new products. That’s our strength and where our efficiencies lie.
The customer supported by their own local waste infrastructure is responsible to leverage those strengths and get the spent products back to a recycling plant supported by the manufacturer. What’s gone wrong with EPR in the U.S. is the manufacturers are expected to create multiple new inefficient waste collection infrastructures.
Johnson: We would need to see the details of this proposed model to comment.
What mandates are reasonable? Can you specify any states or models?
Johnson: Dell is committed to providing efficient and easy product recovery options directly to customers to facilitate responsible product retirement with or without mandates. We integrate the principles of individual producer responsibility into our own policy under which all producers take responsibility for proper end-of-life product management of their own electronic products, enabling internalization of the end-of-life costs of a producer’s own brand that can in turn enable the continual review of the eco-design of the products. We do not support arbitrary collection targets that are unsustainable over the long term, do not reflect changes in consumer demands or product composition, and can cause market manipulation and pricing distortions that unnecessarily increase costs.