CES: Vendors look to ease recycling costs on users

Major vendors including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sony are working together to push through a legislative mandate in the U.S. that will make it easier for users to recycle their consumer electronics.

The mandate calls for companies to cut consumer electronics recycling costs and to make their reuse and recycling the highest priority when manufacturing products, panelists said during a talk at the International Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas.

The cost to consumers of recycling products, including things like collection fees, is high, the panelists said, and some manufacturers have taken advantage of weak recycling laws to manufacture products that cannot be effectively recycled or reused.

Some companies have standards in place to manufacture products that are easy to recycle, but others hope to drive down their own costs by adopting lower production standards, the panelists said.

A legislative mandate would create a level playing field for manufacturers, said Tod Arbogast, director of sustainable business at Dell. A common approach to designing for recycling will promote the production of products that can be recycled and drive down manufacturing costs through effective product design and distribution.

As an example of what can be done, Sony's new OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV is designed to be disassembled by common household tools, said Douglas Smith, Sony's director of corporate environmental affairs. It is a step toward making products that can be easily recycled, he said.

To be effective, recycling processes will be needed to convert used components back to original raw material for other products, followed by reuse or resale. Production costs can be cut through recycling and reusing materials rather than extracting and processing raw materials, said Dell's Arbogast.

"There are significant economic benefits in doing so as well as significant environmental benefits, which I think are often forgotten," Arbogast said.

HP is adopting standards to recycle printers with plastic that doesn't convert to raw material, said Renee St. Denis, director of recycling at HP. The end-of-life resale value of printers after seven to 10 years of usage is minimal, but the high cost of plastics versus other printer components has made the company come up with innovative reuses of those plastics, she said.

Dell already follows a Texas state law that requires PC manufacturers to dispose of products as easily as they are placed in the market, Arbogast said. The company accepts used Dell PCs for free via mail, Arbogast said.

Sony is taking full responsibility for the products its manufactures -- cell phones, TVs and other devices -- by offering the ability to recycle them at no cost, Smith said.

In March, Sony will launch a program in the U.S. where consumers can recycle consumer electronics for free by dropping them off at locations within a 20-mile radius of any SonyStyle store. Though the company has only 55 SonyStyle stores in the U.S. , the company hopes to expand the effort by involving its distributors and other companies.

Sony takes full responsibility for products it manufactures and has already recycled a giant TV screen belonging to the city of Tampa Bay for free, and the company wants to deliver the same recycling ability to users, said Smith.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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