E-Cycling and Sustainability: Five Facts You Need to Know

By Veena Clay November 19, 2014

While sustainability may have come and gone as a buzzword, its importance at the forefront of a number of environmental issues still remains. Both sustainability and e-cycling share common goals and foundations, and it’s important to explore the ways that e-cycling efforts around the world reflect on and are a reflection of sustainability practices and principals.

Recycling centers are the most likely to pay attention to the dictates of sustainability principles. Recycling centers are in a unique position to both promote and practice sustainability in a meaningful way. A center that takes sustainability into consideration has the opportunity to build a firm foundation of environmental responsibility among its clients and customers and has a special opportunity to remain on the cutting edge of sustainable e-cycling.

One of the main issues surrounding the idea of sustainability, be it at your local recycling center or elsewhere, is getting key facts into the hands of the public. Many may have heard of the term but are a bit sketchy on the exact details surrounding it. Here are a few key facts about sustainability, especially as it relates to e-cycling.

1. E-waste recycling laws address sustainability issues

One of the main aspects of sustainability is legislation that takes into account the impact and consequences of current norms and standards on the future of the planet. E-waste recycling laws in particular attempt to respond to the growing torrent of electronic devices, both being manufactured and thrown away, among consumers around the world.

Current U.S. e-cycling rates reflect this surge. A 2010 EPA report estimated that 6.6 billion pounds entered the U.S. waste stream that year. At the time, electronics made up only 19.6% of the goods disposed in recycling centers across the nation, but that 19% represented more than 1.3 billion pounds of electronics sent for recycling or reuse.

Global trends also reflect voluminous numbers. By 2016, it is estimated to reach 93.5 million tons of e-waste globally, according to the EPA. While these numbers may seem hard to fathom, they are legitimate. As the world becomes more technologically advanced (and attached to those advancements), so too does the global e-waste crisis loom larger with every passing year.

In the U.S., government officials and legislators have succeeded in producing legislation to address this e-waste crisis across a number of states. Today, 25 states have enacted legislation that makes recycling e-waste a requirement upon penalty of the law. Six states and Washington, DC, have proposed similar legislation. Yet there is still work to be done. Nineteen states currently have no e-waste laws in place.

Much of the legislation passed has imposed what is known as “producer responsibility.” This means that the e-waste laws in these states rely on the device manufacturer to integrate the cost of recycling an electronic device into the market price. It also holds the producer responsible for the entire life cycle of an electronic product, from manufacturing and production to end-of-life disposal.

Currently, California is the only state with an e-waste protocol that differs from the other states. In California, the onus is placed on the consumer, with a consumer advanced recycling fee law. These laws impose recycling fees that must be paid each time an electronic device is recycled.

2. Landfill bans keep e-cycling sustainable

In addition to general e-waste laws, another set of laws has also addressed sustainability principles as they relate to e-waste. These are the landfill bans that began sweeping through the states in the late 1970s.

Currently, 20 states have landfill bans in place. These bans prevent disposal of e-waste devices in public landfills and, in some instances, in incinerators as well. This leaves 30 states currently without landfill bans for e-waste in place. New York City is currently the only municipality with an e-waste landfill ban on the books.

3. Recycling labels can make a difference

It’s the little things that count, and that holds true for sustainability as well. Recycling labels may seem seem inconsequential and only vaguely related to sustainability, but the truth is that standardized recycling labels are capable of saving thousands of dollars in landfill fees. Labels provide a call to action for consumers during the disposal phase that has proven absolutely essential to increased participation in electronic recycling efforts worldwide.

4. Even electronic recyclers can practice social sustainability

Social sustainability is a bit hard to explain at first. It refers to the way that communities orient within themselves, the choices that individuals make. Common definitions describe situations in which choices are equitable, diverse, justly governed and ensuring that basic needs are met as socially sustainable situations. Experts also emphasize a need for maturity within the community indicating that room to grow and evolve is a key aspect of social sustainability.

What does social sustainability have to do with e-waste or e-cycling? The association may not be common, but a few recycling centers across the nation are catching on. For instance, ERI exercises social sustainability concepts in a very important aspect of its operations: hiring. A portion of its workforce comes from second-chance programs in U.S. prisons.

Other ways that social sustainability relates to e-cycling vary from state to states. For instance, a recycling center may participate in community service projects such as trash pick-ups or enter into partnerships with low-income school districts to help ensure that students understand the impact of e-waste on the environment and on their communities.

5. Current trends involve business cooperation

The current trend in sustainability is for businesses, not just communities and environmentalists, to embrace the challenges and rewards of a sustainable lifestyle. By promoting business measures that introduce long-term investments into the principles of sustainability and exploring the risks and costs to the environment and surrounding communities both now and in the future, companies can stay in step with current trends in sustainability principles.

Every step toward sustainability matters

Sustainability may be a tough concept to grasp, but it doesn’t have to be. Just know that each time you choose to recycle your electronic devices, you’re contributing to a more sustainable environment for yourself and for those who will call the earth home in the future. Sustainability ensures that every step we take toward addressing the current e-waste crisis matters deeply, and it is important that electronic recycling centers strive to incorporate its principles into day-to-day business practices as much as possible.