Given the explosive growth of the electronics industry and the pivotal importance to sustainability that hinges upon whether end-of-life electronics are discarded or recycled, policy makers and industry alike continue to follow the issue with close interest. With this in mind, International Data Corporation (IDC) www.idc.com published a report (offered for free as an Earth Day promotion), reviewing the recycling of computers and accessories in the United States during 2010.
The report notes that the electronics recycling industry in the U.S. has grown rapidly – from $1.5 billion in 2002 to $5 billion in 2010, now generating 30,000 jobs in the process. Yet in spite of its importance as a critical component of the hardware life cycle, the electronics recycling sector is still fragmented, with remaining weakness in terms of oversight and ethics.
According to the study, recycling volume for personal computers and accessories amounted to 8.1lb in 2010, or about 2.5 billion pounds nationally. The largest segment of this recovery was for PCs, including desktop and notebook computers, accounting for over 1.1 billion pounds. The second largest segment was for PC displays, accounting for 669.5 million pounds recycled in 2010.
Multifunction peripherals, typically printers, were the third largest constituent, weighing in at 371.7 million pounds. Cell phones were recycled in the amount of 109.5 million pounds, while x86 server volumes amounted to 61 million pounds. A combination of digital cameras, non-enterprise storage, keyboards, mice and cables totalled 161.5 million pounds.
PC and Accessory Recovery (Top 3 Categories)
Fragmentation and Oversight Harmonization Remain Challenges
Although consolidation is an ongoing trend within electronics recycling, fragmentation is still an issue. The complexity of channels and the number of companies involved pose challenges for widespread oversight. This lack of oversight is now being solved by the emergence of R2 and e-Stewards certification programs. The study cautions that while the two standards have many elements in common, they also have important differences. Aside from different approaches to management and structure, the report identifies the two most visible differences as export and labor provisions. It suggests that as long as the two sets of standards continue to disagree, consumers will be uncertain as to which approach to take, and inefficiencies will endure.
Going forward, the report observes that product cycles are shortening, devices are getting lighter, and increasingly, electronics are being imbedded into a range of products. To best succeed, the recycling industry needs to develop better channels and more efficient secondary markets. The recycling industry is moving in this direction and is increasingly ready to expand in scope.