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How do gadget sales drive the e-waste industry?

With boggling news this week that 100 million iPads are floating around out there — and more to come with Apple’s debut of the new mini iPad – one does start to wonder “What happens to all the old iPads?”

Earth911.com has information for about recycling technology for both consumers and businesses.

The answer to that question is a timely one amid the announcement of the new iPad and other Apple products, and hot on the  heels of the new iPhone announcement in September, not to mention assorted other hand-held gadget debuts and the upcoming holiday shopping spree that increasingly features electronics as centerpiece gifts.

There are several solid business angles that address the issue of discarded, used and past-generation gadgets, including the burgeoning e-waste industry and the personal finance angle, as in “How can I sell my used iPhone?” or other gizmo.  Another news  peg is that many communities schedule their annual or semi-annual haz-mat and/or electronic waste drop-off days in the late fall, as per this Northwestern.com article about an upcoming e-cycling event in Oshkosh, Wisc.; a recent similar event in Scotts Valley, Calif. collected 20,000 pounds of e-waste.

The figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are staggering, and they are three years out ofdate.  According to the EPA’s web page on e-cycling, only 8 percent of some 129 million disposed-of mobile units were collected for recycling.  (The figures were a bit better for TVs and other large devices.)  Communities increasingly are sponsoring collection drives but consumers seldom hear about what happens to their discarded gadgets or about the industry that has sprung up to deal with them.

If you approach this story, first consider the personal finance angel:  How can consumers recoup some dollars from their unwanted mobile devices, handheld readers or even desktops, TVs, DVD players and other appliances?   Sites like Gazelle and BuyMyTronics offer cash for some devices; here’s a helpful CNET article about those and other venues — like Amazon.com’s trade-in feature — that allow consumers to offload unwanted devices and media.

But what about technology that has no trade-in value, or consumers who don’t want to be bothered?  The e-waste industry is responding to the increasing amount of discarded gadgets.  According to this TechEye.net article, it’s expected to be a $44 billion industry by the end of the current decade; the mountains of e-waste, as the article points out, also contain plenty of precious metals yet also present a health hazard — both reasons that the e-recycling and management industries present opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Here’s a Sustainable Plant article from September quoting the current EPA director in saying that the U.S. generates 2.5 million tons of e-waste per year, and challenging the recycling/refurbishing  industry to adopt a more rigorous certification methodology, in additon to calling for major makers/sellers to commit more to recycling.

The National Center for Electronics Recycling and the Electronics Takeback Coalition are good sources of information and story idea leads; in addtion, talk with you local municipal solid-waste coordinators, garbage haulers and recycling firms about programs, challenges and concerns related to the growing amount of e-waste emanating from homes and businesses.

 

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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