Startling Recycling Numbers

Retrevo dot com is a great marketplace for gadgets, and it’s chock full of interesting news about electronics, including our habits regarding our electronics. In a recent study, the company found that on average only 39% of Americans claim to recycle all of their old electronic devices. And that number is somewhat sketchy since many people claim to do more than they actually do. Also, “all” electronics encompasses a whole lot of what we own today — there’s likely a few things that end up in the trash rather than an e-waste collection site. But this 39% is the good news of the numbers. The study found a whole lot more dirt about what we’re doing with devices.

Retrevo‘s study (consisting of 7,500 participants) states that 17% of Americans don’t know how to recycle their gadgets, 7% don’t even care while 11% say it isn’t available near them, and 26% never seem to get around to it.

These are some bummer numbers considering our consumption of gadgets seems to just keep going up. The graph above shows that some places are using their resources better than others — San Francisco has a 52% recycling rate, and even Phoenix is up there at 47%. Still, these numbers are far from ideal.

Using 2008 data from the EPA, Retrevo calculated that by the end of the next decade, we’ll have so much e-waste that it’d fill a line of dump trucks so long, it would circle the globe twice. And earlier in the week we learned that while energy efficiency of electronics has improved steadily over the last 40 years, we haven’t seen a dip in energy consumption because we just keep buying more of them.

Those are some big numbers.

It seems that part of the problem is a lack of consumer education on where and how to recycle gadgets. A second problem is the ease with which a person can find a place to drop off electronics — for free — so they can be properly recycled. And of course there’s the issue of consuming more gadgets than we really need, or even honestly want.

While there’s only so much we can do on a consumer level — after all, convincing people to skip buying the next new cell phone, camera, TV or game station is an uphill battle — there’s luckily a lot that states are now doing to step up and ensure everyone takes responsibility for old electronics. To date, 23 states now have regulations for mandatory electronics recycling, ensuring that manufacturers provide locations for people to bring in their old devices.

And while earlier in the year we saw contention over who should shoulder the most responsibility for products at the end of their life — manufacturers, consumers or governments — there is little doubt that manufacturers are being pushed to think about the recyclability of their products as a matter of course, held at an equal importance as energy efficiency and functionality.

However, there’s a step even more important than getting consumers to recycle. It’s getting them to repair. Gadgets aren’t simple to fix anymore, at least most of the time, but thanks to projects like iFixit, consumers are increasingly able to take real ownership of their devices and fix them to keep them running as long as possible. Afterall, the longer you own your gadgets, the less you have to worry about recycling them.