EPA Shows CE Fastest-Declining Solid Waste

EPA Report: CE Now the Fastest-Declining Portion of Municipal Waste Stream

Recovery of CE solid waste improves 27 percent YTY, almost five-times that of any other product

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows consumer electronics (CE) are now the fastest-declining portion of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, evidence that the environmental footprint of the CE industry is shrinking as products become lighter and less material-intensive.  

According to the EPA’s Advancing Sustainable Materials Management Facts and Figures report, the amount of CE products generated in the municipal waste stream fell almost four percent from 2012 to 2013 – the biggest decline of any single product category and more than twice that of the next fastest-declining waste stream – dropping to its lowest level since 2007. At the same time, EPA reports that CE recycling reached an all-time high of 40.4 percent in 2013 – up from 30.6 percent in 2012 – a 10 percent jump in just a single year.

“This report marks a true milestone moment for the CE industry’s impact on the environment,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®. “We’ve gone from the fastest-growing portion of the municipal waste stream to the fastest-declining—a remarkable turnaround. Also, thanks to our industry’s dedicated focus on recycling, consumers now have unprecedented awareness and access to recycling resources. We are working to make recycling your old devices as easy as buying new ones. And those efforts drive the results shown in the new EPA report.”

The EPA also reports the amount of CE products discarded in the municipal waste stream dropped 17.6 percent in 2013 – a quantification of the sharp decline of CE going into U.S. landfills. CE are among the few product categories that enjoyed a decline in discarded products from the previous year, and their reduction is more than three times that of any other product category.

The decline of CE waste generation and landfilling rates in 2013 is mostly attributable to the end of the so-called “CRT era”—referring to the cathode ray tubes that dominated the video display market until the mid-2000s. CRT televisions and monitors are heavier, have smaller screens and use more energy than their flat-panel successors. But, as anticipated by the 2011 CEA-commissioned study Materials Footprint Reduction of Televisions and Computer Monitors: 2004-2010, the lighter flat-panel displays are now displacing CRT devices in the solid waste/recycling stream. Additionally, sales of heavier computing products such as desktop computers have declined over the last decade, while sales of lighter mobile devices have increased dramatically. These and other innovations within the CE industry are producing better products that use lighter and fewer materials, as well as reductions in waste generation as consumers begin to replace these lighter devices. 

On the recycling front, CEA announced in April that CE recycling under the eCycling Leadership Initiative reached 660 million pounds in the U.S. last year, the CE industry’s highest ever annual total. According to the Fourth Annual Report of the eCycling Leadership Initiative – a CE industry effort led by CEA – the Initiative’s annual recycling total increased by more than six percent in 2014, 40 million pounds above the 2013 level. The report also says more than 8,500 responsible recycling locations are now available to U.S. consumers, and nearly all (99.9 percent) of the recycling facilitated by Initiative participants was conducted in third party-certified recycling facilities.

 “The new EPA report shows our industry’s commitment to the goals of EPA’s Waste Management Hierarchy, which ranks source reduction as the most preferred approach—just ahead of recycling,” said Walter Alcorn, vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability, CEA. “Our research shows the average U.S. home now has roughly 21 different CE devices, so getting consumers active in the electronics recycling process is more important than ever. In addition to programs like the eCycling Leadership Initiative and resources such as our ZIP code-based Greener Gadgets recycler locator, the CE industry continues to partner with governments at all levels and other stakeholders to educate consumers about how and where they can recycle. And since 2012, CEA’s public service announcements about ecycling have been heard or seen by more than 100 million consumers.”

Visit GreenerGadgets.org to find the electronics recycler site nearest you, as well as tips on how to live green, buy green and recycle responsibly. For more information on the CE industry’s recycling efforts, visit CE.org/ecycle.

About CEA:

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is the technology trade association representing the $286 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry. More than 2,000 companies enjoy the benefits of CEA membership, including legislative and regulatory advocacy, market research, technical training and education, industry promotion, standards development and the fostering of business and strategic relationships. CEA also owns and produces CES – The Global Stage for Innovation. All profits from CES are reinvested into CEA’s industry services. Find CEA online at CE.orgInnovationMovement.com.