CES: Industry group promotes tech recycling

Consumer electronics users would recycle a greater portion of their discarded TVs and cell phones if they knew where to take them, an industry trade group said Wednesday.

2007 International CES

2007 International CES: January 8-11, Las Vegas

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) created a Web site in reaction to a new poll showing that 70% of people are interested in recycling their old devices, but only 30% know where to dispose of the gear.

Now those people can use the new site, called myGreenElectronics.org, to search by zip code for the nearest recycling facility, then search by device to buy the most energy-efficient replacement, whether it's a baby monitor, battery or camcorder.

The site offers some of the same guidance for consumers that the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool site provides for government and institutional buyers and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar standard provides to manufacturers, said Parker Brugge, senior director and environmental counsel for the CEA. He spoke at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Several trends will push electronics efficiency to improve in 2007, as the EPA's more stringent EnergyStar standard becomes active in July, and as 1,700 U.S. television broadcasters prepare to change from analog signals to the more efficient digital signals, said Shawn DuBravac, a CEA staff economist.

Another change that could push manufacturers to create more efficient devices in 2007 is the spread of EPA's Federal Electronics Challenge to include states and not just federal agencies, he said. California and Maine already use their local bureaucratic networks to collect tons of electronic waste, while Maryland and Washington will roll out similar systems in the future.

A main challenge is funding, said Doug Smith, director of corporate environment, safety and health for Sony Electronics Inc. Sony is struggling to rebound from a massive recall of defective rechargeable notebook batteries in 2006, but won recognition for its recycling efforts on Wednesday from CEA.

The economics of recycling dictate that most local governments cannot afford to collect used devices without funding from consumers or the federal government, said Smith. One solution is the recycling model used in California, where consumers pay a recycling fee when they first buy a new device, similar to the fees used in recycling bottles and car tires, Smith said. The fee adds $6 to $10 to the purchase price of a new TV.

"We have no ability to collect from consumers unless they mail it in, which is kind of expensive for TVs," he said. "The thing is, you have to get it all in one spot. The raw materials are far more rich in metals than, say, the ore in a copper mine. But you don't get the economies of scale if you spread that around to thousands of collection sites."

The best way to support the cost of recycling is not to eliminate toxics altogether, but to view the old devices as a raw materials stream to make new products, he said. That strategy will be crucial in coming years as developing countries like China grow so fast that their demand for raw materials is greater than mines can produce.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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