Most Electronics Retailers get F’s on New Recycling Report Card

Only Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot Get High MarksGraphic of shopping cart full of electronics

(July 17, 2013, San Francisco, CA)  Only three electronics retailers are making a serious effort to help consumers responsibly recycle their old electronic products, according to a new report card released today by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. The Coalition is calling on the other retailers to step up and do their part to make it as easy to recycle as it is to buy electronics from them.  Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot earned high marks on the report card, which graded the top 16 consumer electronics retailers’ recycling programs in the country. But, more than half of the retailers flunked, including retail giants such as Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Sam’s Club, and Sears.

“Staples, Best Buy, and Office Depot are leading the charge to meet consumers’ demand for recycling options, but there is a much bigger number of disappointing laggards who are selling us billions of dollars of electronics each year and doing nothing to help consumers recycle them later,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

Some retailers offer trade in programs where consumers can get store gift cards equal to the value of their traded in products, which they must ship back to the retailer. But the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which promotes responsible recycling and green design of electronics, doesn’t view those as a substitute for recycling programs because most of the trade in programs only take the smaller, higher value items like cell phones and tablets, not the larger, low value items like televisions, printers, and  TV peripherals like VCRs, DVD players. Also, most of the trade in programs require consumers to ship their items; only Best Buy and Radio Shack allow people to drop trade in items off at stores.

“Consumers want to drop off their old stuff at a physical location, like a store,” commented Kyle. “Most people just aren’t going to bother to box it up and ship it someplace unless it’s really small, like a cell phone. That’s why we’d like to see more of these retailers step up and be the front door for recycling programs, in partnership with the manufacturer take back programs.”

The report card evaluated the 16 retailers’ programs against 20 criteria, including convenience, transparency, collection volumes, and responsible recycling. Findings included:

  • Only three of the retailers (19%) have effective recycling programs, meaning they take back all or most of the 13 categories studied and offer physical collection sites.
  • Nine of the 16 retailers got F’s (56%), because they either have no recycling program  or they take back only one item.
  • While all 16 retailers sell TVs, only two (12%)- Best Buy and Micro Center – take them back for recycling at their stores. Yet TVs are the items for which consumers have the most difficulty finding recycling options and will never mail back.
  • Nine retailers offer trade in programs, but only two of them – Best Buy and Radio Shack – let you bring trade in items back to their stores.  The others require consumers to ship their old products back to the trade in vendor for credit.
  • Six of the 16 (37%) retailers are using certified e-Stewards for their recycling or trade in recyclers. The e-Steward standard is the highest in the industry, and does not allow vendors to export toxic e-waste to developing countries.

One of the members of the Coalition, the Texas Campaign for the Environment, has been pressuring Walmart for two years to do more to help consumers recycle electronics, both in Texas and nationwide.

“Walmart has over 3700 stores in the U.S., and it would make a big difference if they would start doing e-waste recycling like Best Buy has been doing for years,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Legislators have started to take notice of laggards like Walmart and in three states – Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Texas – lawmakers introduced bills to require big box retailers that sell electronics to collect them for recycling. We advise Walmart and other retailers to set up electronics recycling programs, before they are forced to do so,” Schneider warned.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a U.S. coalition of environmental and consumer groups who promote responsible recycling and sustainable design for electronics.