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Electronics recycling: Understanding the value of convenience

Posted: 21 Jan 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:electronics  recycling  Sustainability Consortium 

The electronics industry has long been carrying out their respective programs for recycling. However, the issue of adhering to these programs is another thing. For one, the costs associated with recycling could discourage compliance. In addition, there is also the matter of convenience. Given its subjective nature, standardising electronics recycling convenience remains to be elusive.

Even though there isn't a clear consensus on what it means, convenience is one of the key attributes expected of any electronics collection program. In fact, multiple state programs are considering using it as a measure of how well a particular electronics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is meeting their responsibilities under extended producer responsibility legislation.

But what does it really mean to have a convenient program? In some states, program convenience is measured for a given population. While this ensures plenty of sites, there has been little follow-up by governments to understand if these sites are actually considered convenient by users. Looking at what individuals self-report, location is important, but also is knowing that the program exists, where it's located, and what types of products will be accepted with or without a fee. Convenience becomes a marketing issue as well, not just a logistical one.

Recycling convenience has yet to be defined

To further shed light on what convenience means, this topic was included in a recent research project at The Sustainability Consortium (TSC). I brought together a panel of experts to develop a definition of an ideal used electronics management program and identify the key attributes any program should be able to assess and communicate. The panel consisted of industry experts from a range of stakeholder groups, including government, NGOs, OEMs and recyclers, who participated in a Delphi panel to develop this definition. Convenience definitely figured as a key attribute to programs, as defined by program scope (what products are accepted), accessibility (how many site were available and how easily were they reached) and cost (products should be accepted free of charge to the program user). Even while agreeing that convenience was important for an ideal program, they could not come to a set of measures that were appropriate and feasible to express this concept. If experts in the field couldn't provide a way to communicate convenience, it's no surprise program users are confused!

At the end of all of this, convenience really comes down to whether there is more benefit to you, the program user, than there is cost. This can be measured in distance or time or quality of information available, but the program must provide value to its user or no one will use it. My research work at TSC focuses on the benefits individuals receive from recycling electronics and electrical equipment, and how we could increase recycling through education and financial or charitable incentives. Both of these factors should increase the benefit, and therefore the convenience, of electronics recycling. Hopefully, we will be able to shed a bit of light on how to make programs more convenient for the most important stakeholder, you.

- Carole Mars
  EBN





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