This blog contains some simple tips and advice from two regular guys. We're not accountants, financial advisors, or brokers, so follow, ignore, or discuss our ideas as you see fit.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The costs of e-cycling

Posted by Matt
*** First, let me start off with apologies to frugalizers looking for a money-saving tip in this post. That's how I started out, but it turned out to be another case of me changing my mind after I did my homework. If you want to find out why you SHOULDN'T save money on e-cycling, read on. ***

I was recently reading my Costco Connection magazine and discovered that Costco is now offering free recycling services for several types of electronic devices. Most household items that can be recycled at all can be recycled for free here in Oregon, but electronics are a special case. They require extra handling to recapture precious metals and prevent dangerous materials (e.g., lead) from getting into the landfills. I've paid a $10 fee (suggested donation) on more than one occasion to retire a defunct computer CRT at FreeGeek, so I was excited to find a free option.

And then I read a little more about e-cycling here and remembered some photos I saw in National Geographic not too long ago showing kids in Africa burning piles of wires to get the plastic off so that they could sell the metal. That's not healthy for anyone!

So, I did a little digging and found this on the FAQ page for Greensight (the vendor that provides Costco's e-cycling service):

All equipment received by GreenSight will either be reconditioned or recycled. Some equipment may be sold into the secondary, or used, marketplace, in its whole machine form and some equipment may be disassembled and sold off as usable service parts. Recycled equipment will be broken down into its raw material format and used to produce new materials. GreenSight employs a zero tolerance landfill policy.

Hmmm, I like the "zero tolerance landfill policy", but if they are selling equipment into the secondary marketplace, there's no telling where it will end up. I went back to the e-cycling article and read about the Basel Action Network, a group seeking to end the practice of dumping electronic waste on third-world countries. They provide a page listing companies that offer "sustainable and socially just electronics recycling". Total Reclaim is one of the Oregon companies, which just happens to be who FreeGeek uses. Back to square one, but armed with the knowledge that I'm recycling the right way with the help of the good citizens of FreeGeek.

It just goes to show that things usually cost money for a reason and there are more costs than just the ones that come from my wallet. If anyone from Costco is reading this, consider it a request to step up the game!


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this investigation, Matt. I agree that you sometimes (often!) have to pay more, or go to greater effort, to do things right.

When I consider how precious my grandson is to me, I can only assume that people everywhere love their children and grandchildren just as deeply. I don't want to risk their futures for my own convenience, or to save a few bucks. I appreciate this information.

shawnerama said...

A big thanks from Free Geek on this as well, Matt. You hit the nail on the head. We don't like to charge for our monitors either, but when you think about how much is at stake, it's well worth it to shell out a few bucks to get those things recycled responsibly.

Shawn Furst
Free Geek volunteer