Even though the U.S. has taken a more capitalist approach to e-cycling, that doesn’t stop the Environmental Protection Agency from trying. Today the EPA announced a new recycling awareness campaign aimed at reclaiming retired cell phones. The news follow two other e-cycling announcements at CES, the Panasonic-Toshiba-Sharp consortium and NEW’s “ecoNew” trade-in service.
The EPA’s new $175,000 campaign is an extension of the org’s more broad-based “Plug-In to eCycling” program. Dubbed “Recycle Your Cellphone. It’s an Easy Call,” the campaign is aimed at the 18-to-34-year-olds who view their phones as accessories. The EPA estimates that fewer than 20 percent of retired phones get recycled; the remaining millions of handsets get sent to landfills, taking with them many precious metals. Given that ABI Research estimates that by 2012 the recycling of cell phones will generate some $3 billion in revenue, the EPA’s new campaign will act as a government-funded marketing campaign for this growing industry.
The program brings together 11 large companies: retailers Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples; service carriers AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint; and manufacturers Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG; all of whom will work together to make recycling easier for consumers. The EPA will run public service announcements, particularly in technology magazines, while the program partners hold recycling events.
While this sounds all well and good, Americans have a terrible track record when it comes to voluntary recycling. American companies are resistant to recycling regulations and prefer market-based solutions. But voluntary recycling of plastic and glass bottles is getting recycling rates of less than 30 percent while state regulations and mandates have raised car battery recycling rates to 99 percent, according to the EPA
And although waste disposal legislation, akin to Europe’s own regulations, would change the domestic recycling game, it is up to market-driven programs like NEW’s ecoNew and e-cycling startups like Electronic Recyclers and BuyMyTronics.com to make headway, and hopefully revenue, in recycling.