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Best Buy

Why Best Buy Changed its E-Waste Recycling Program

Best BuyBest Buy this week changed its in-store e-waste recycling program, charging customers $25 for each TV and computer monitor they recycle at its stores, because it is losing money on the program.

“Our goal has always been to simply break even on our recycling program, and we’re not there today,” writes Laura Bishop, Best Buy’s vice president of public affairs & sustainability, in a blog explaining the change. “The new fees will help cover the increasing cost of managing TV and monitor disposal through our network of stores, distribution centers and recycling partners.”

In Illinois and Pennsylvania, Best Buy says it no longer recycles TVs and computer monitors because of state laws preventing the retailer from collecting fees to help run the recycling program.

Best Buy says consumers can continue to recycle all other products — such as batteries, ink cartridges, computers and printers — for free at all of its stores.

The company also still requires its recycling partners to hold either R2 (Responsible Recycling) or e-Stewards recycling certifications, which guarantees the e-waste will be recycled in an environmentally safe way. It also requires them to comply with the ISO 14001 environmental management systems standard.

Best Buy vs. BAN

The Basel Action Network (BAN), which administers the e-Stewards recycling certification, earlier this week said Best Buy was dropping its commitment to e-Stewards certified recyclers. Not true, says Best Buy.

“We’re disappointed that Basel Action Network (BAN) painted an inaccurate picture of Best Buy’s commitment to responsible recycling,” Bishop tells Environmental Leader. “Best Buy requires our recycling partners to adhere to the highest industry standards and have either R2 or e-Stewards certification. We also require them to comply with ISO 14001 environmental management standards. We’re proud to have responsibly recycled more than 1 billion pounds of e-waste since 2009 and we will continue to recycle responsibly going forward.”

BAN didn’t respond to requests for comment.

E-Waste Sector Facing Global Challenges

Globally, e-waste volume is rising and commodity prices are falling. And, as Bishop points out, outlets for recycled glass — a key component of TVs and monitors — has declined.

“More and more cities and counties have cut their recycling programs for budget reasons, limiting consumer options even further,” Bishop writes. “While providing recycling solutions for our customers is a priority, Best Buy should not be the sole e-cycling provider in any given area, nor should we assume the entire cost.”

E-waste recycling companies are feeling the pinch, too, as considerable amounts of e-waste continue to be exported illegally, and new electronic devices on the market are becoming increasingly smaller. This often means they contain less precious metals and other valuable metals to be recovered when the new devices eventually become e-waste. All of these factors lead to lower earnings for recycling companies, according to attendees at the International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC 2016.

“Commodities prices will continue to be under pressure in the foreseeable future,” says Steve Skurnac, president of Sims Recycling Solutions and a keynote speaker at the IERC 2016. “Recycling companies that provide additional services and work together with manufacturers will be able to provide valuable services within the overall supply chain.”

Calls for National Producer Responsibility Law

BAN says the real problem is the refusal by electronics manufacturers to internalize the true costs of electronics recycling services into their sales prices. In lieu of a national producer responsibility law in the US, manufacturers should be helping Best Buy foot the bill for the public recycling program, at least enough to allow the retailer to break even, the organization says.

On this point, Best Buy agrees with BAN. “Best Buy has and would continue to support a national producer responsibility law, and believes it could be helpful to solving our own collection challenge,” Bishop tells Environmental Leader. “The patchwork of laws right now makes it difficult for consumers to understand their options and for businesses to offer the best services and recycling solutions for their customers.”

Electronic producers say they also support a national e-waste recycling approach. The industry is committed to recycling and reducing e-waste, says Consumer Technology Association’s Walter Alcorn, VP of environmental affairs and industry sustainability. He cites EPA research that shows consumer electronics are the fastest-declining portion of the US municipal solid waste stream. “CTA has long supported a national and shared approach to facilitate responsible electronics recycling as an alternative to the confusing patchwork of independent state e-waste mandates.”

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