Consumers could do better when it comes to recycling electronic devices, study suggests

Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images

Most consumers don’t recycle their devices when they replace them

More than half of Americans say sustainability is important when it comes to electronic devices. However, only 64% of consumers in a recent survey said they have a broken device repaired instead of buying a new one. 

The nationwide study – conducted by ARRIS, a global manufacturing technology company – also shows that 35% of consumers who purchased a new mobile phone did so because their current one broke down. Another 20% bought a new one because they simply wanted the latest model. The same goes for computers and laptops. Less than half of Americans say they bought a new device out of necessity.

While there are those who will take Apple up on its new “Self Service Repair” offering, a whopping 62% said they replaced their phones because it broke or had bad battery life instead of going the repair route.

Consumers tend to hold on to devices

American consumers love having a device. Eighty percent of people have two or more working cell phones in their household, 78% of have two computers or more in their homes, and 41% have two or more tablets – but those are just the working electronics. 

When it comes to devices that have seen their better days, Americans hold on to them instead of recycling them. In fact, 20% of those surveyed admitted that they have four or more broken or unused cell phones tucked away at home. Another 45% said they were holding on to one or two computers that don’t work or aren’t used, and 20% said they have a tablet in a drawer at home that they don’t use anymore.

The survey showed that people would like to recycle their electronics, but the majority (56%) don’t actually make the effort because they say recycling electronics is hard; nearly half (45%) said they’ve never recycled any electronics at all. Nearly 20% confessed that they threw their old phone or computer in the garbage rather than make the effort to recycle it properly -- a move that could get them fined if they live in Illinois, California, or New York.

State laws for disposing of electronics

Believe it or not, 25 states follow one of two basic models for e-waste disposal. Under the extended producer responsibility model, the manufacturer takes responsibility by paying to collect and recycle the products covered under law, with the covered products varying widely from state to state. 

Under the second model, consumers automatically pay for a “recycling fee” – usually between $6 and $10 – when they purchase an electronic device. For example, California's fee is “used to provide payments to approved collectors and recyclers, fostering the development of recycling opportunities and offsetting the cost of properly managing these types of products at the end of their useful lives.” 

The mobile phone companies ConsumerAffairs surveyed all appear to be pro-recycling, and many offer free recycling or reuse programs, including: T-Mobile, Motorola, and Verizon.

There are also companies that offer to recycle phones with promises of no landfill recycling. Some of those might even purchase your old device. One way to find those companies is by performing an internet search for "mobile phone companies that have recycling programs."

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