When we consider ordinary actions that individuals may take to help safeguard the environment, recycling is frequently mentioned. It’s a decades-old practice that stems from the belief that we must reuse items, including electronics, in order to save non-renewable resources. However, what is the cost of recycling electronics in particular, and why should we care?
The United States has been transitioning away from the conventional “Cradle-to-Grave” perspective and toward a more environmentally friendly “Cradle-to-Cradle” mindset, with recycling becoming a normal practice. Today, recycling is far more complex and ubiquitous; it is provided as a public service by local governments and private trash management firms. It is an important part of daily life in the majority of cities, with residents viewing it as a civic responsibility rather than a voluntary pastime.
However, what precisely qualifies as economically viable electronic recycling? Is recycling economically viable? Recycling is defined as “the conversion of waste resources into reusable products.” The majority of things and rubbish that we use/create on a daily basis are recyclable. However, recycling demonstrates its economic value only when the cash generated by recycled products sold on the market exceeds the process’s costs (i.e. operations, labor, etc.). As is the case with the majority of services in a free market system, the cost of electronics recycling varies according on economic conditions.
Is it profitable to recycle electronics?
Not only does recycling have numerous environmental benefits, but it may also be quite profitable. It is a global enterprise worth an estimated $100 billion. However, this figure is subject to market fluctuations, particularly in the case of electronic trash. This term refers to any product that is powered by electricity (i.e. laptops, TVs, stereos, etc.). These items are composed of a variety of commodities, including metals, polymers, and other petroleum-based materials. As a result, the existing market for electronic waste recycling is highly correlated with the price of oil.
This market operates in a clear manner. To begin, manufacturers of electrical products must procure materials from commodity sellers. Businesses, in a free-market economy, will normally seek the lowest commodities available in order to maximize their profits. Having said that, if oil is cheap, creating new metals and plastics becomes affordable as well. Businesses will prefer new commodities to recycled ones. Recycling commodities only becomes valuable when oil prices are high enough that the cost of producing new materials becomes prohibitively expensive. While the price of new electronic devices normally remains stable, the costs of creating the products will fluctuate across recycling and manufacturing vendors due to fluctuating oil prices.
How much does it cost to recycle electronics?
There are some electrical waste products that are more valuable than others. Laptops, monitors, cellphones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions are all examples of high-value items. Due to the difficulty of reselling low-value products, also known as Universal Waste Electronic Devices (UWED), they are more likely to lose value as oil prices fall. Keyboards, CRT televisions, wires, printers, microwaves, scanners, and routers are all examples of this. In other words, the majority of electrical products that wind up in landfills.
The issue with low-value objects is not that they are not recyclable; rather, with low oil prices, they become too expensive to recycle (We recycle them at 0.75 per pound). This results in their disposal in landfills as a less expensive option. According to NPR’s Stacey Vanek Smith, “there is a term for a recyclable that is no longer economically viable — it is termed garbage.”