Retailers get into the act of recycling electronicsby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
Eden Prairie, Minn. — Retailers are increasingly helping customers recycle everything from cell phones and printer cartridges to computers and TVs. That's made retailers important players in the effort to control electronic waste in Minnesota.
Among consumers, word is out that Best Buy stores are a great place to take electronic trash. That's what recently brought Sharon Hembree to the Best Buy store in Eden Prairie. Hembree's sister had given her the heads-up about Best Buy.
"My sister returned her old computer in Seattle," Hembree said.
For about two years, Best Buy's some 1,100 stores have accepted computers, TVs and other unwanted electronics. Last year, the chain collected 80 million pounds of electronic waste, up about 14 percent over the first year. Minnesotans contributed 10 percent of the total.
"We do it because we heard over and over from our customers that they need a solution for this," said Chris Boik, Best Buy's director of recycling. "We pretty much have a recycling program set up for most everything we sell."
Best Buy monitors its recycling partners to make sure they process waste responsibly, Boik said. They're barred from exporting broken equipment or components to developing countries.
An increasing number of other retailers are helping consumers do some sort of recycling -- be it number 5 plastic, compact fluorescent light bulbs, batteries or other products. Retailers offering recycling include Radio Shack, Home Depot, Whole Foods, Staples, Menards and Target.
A year ago, Target deployed recycling stations in all of its stores. Target spokeswoman Jenna Reck said some customers bring loads of cans and bottles from home.
"There are some states where there are not a lot of options for recycling things like glass bottles," she said. "And so in those places, Target is one of the only places in the neighborhood that will take those items."
Retailer recycling programs collected a significant amount of waste electronics in Minnesota last year -- about 30 million pounds. That was about a fifth of the electronic waste collected in accordance with state law.
The motivation is not necessarily altruism. In-store recycling is a way to help suppliers comply with state law.
Minnesota requires companies that make TVs, computer monitors and laptop computers to recycle electronic waste equal to 80 percent of what they sell, by weight, in the state. The weight requirement can be met by the collection and recycling of a wide range of consumer electronics, including desktop computers and printers.
Retailers are obviously finding a way to provide this service within their business model, said Garth Hickle, a product stewardship team leader at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He works with manufacturers and retailers to reduce harm on the environment.
Best Buy's recycling program generates revenue and essentially breaks even, company officials said. The retailer charges to recycle some items, but then gives the customer a Best Buy-only gift card for that amount.
The company receives some of the take from gold and other valuable materials recovered from electronic waste. Best Buy also is paid by some electronics manufacturers for helping them meet recycling requirements in four states.
Green marketing consultant Jacquelyn Ottman said recycling programs also bring customers to stores.
"It's a service to the customers," she said. "And I think the foot traffic is very important, because green consumers tend to be among the most affluent in the marketplace and the most influential."
Ottman said retailers adding recycling programs may also be trying to head off more government mandates for recycling, trying to find solutions that work better for them than something the government could force on them.
USEFUL LINKS:Best Buy e-cycle
Best Buy takes just about anything electronic, including TVs, DVD players, computer monitors, audio and video cables, cell phones, and more.
Home Depot CFL Recycling
The Home Depot offers free in-store recycling of compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.
Recycling centers, located at the store entrance, offer a free, convenient and easy way for customers to recycle rechargeable batteries, cell phones, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and plastic shopping bags.
Accepts computers, monitors, fax machines, scanners and many other devices. Fees apply.
This retailer takes cell phones and rechargeable batteries.
Staples accepts ink and toner cartridges, PDAs, cell phones, digital cameras, rechargeable batteries, desktop computers, monitors, laptops, printers, keyboards, mice, speakers and modems. A recycling fee of $10 is charged for each piece of large equipment. No charge for Dell computers and monitors.
Customers can recycle cans, glass plastic bottles, plastic bags, MP3 players, ink cartridges and cell phones at Target stores.
Walmart Electronics Recycling
Through the Samsung Recycling Direct program, Walmart customers can recycle Samsung consumer electronics for free at drop-off locations in all 50 states Other brands are recyclable for a nominal fee.
Some Whole Foods stores recycle #5 plastic, which is commonly used in containers for yogurt, cottage cheese and other foods.
County environmental contacts - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Find information on recycling or solid waste management in your Minnesota county by contacting your solid waste administrator (SWA) or recycling coordinator.
Twin Cities Recycling Guide
- Morning Edition, 05/19/2011, 7:20 a.m.