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Staples Launches Electronics Collection/Recycling Program

May 21, 2007

Source: Product Stewardship Institute

Boston – Staples, Inc., the office super-store, today became the first major retailer to collect used electronics from its customers. The announcement came three years after a trial effort showed that items such as computers could be easily recycled at low cost to consumers and retailers.

Staples will accept all brands of computers, monitors, laptops, printers, faxes, and all-in-one devices at its U.S. stores for a fee of $10 per large item. Televisions, which Staples does not sell, are not accepted.

The 2004 pilot program, a collaboration between Staples, U.S. EPA, and the Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. (PSI) successfully showed that Staples could provide recycling services for unwanted computer equipment to its retail and commercial customers within the company’s existing distribution infrastructure.

“The pilot showed that consumers and businesses will respond, if given the chance to recycle consumer electronics,” said Scott Cassel, Executive Director of the Product Stewardship Institute. "This is a model that works, saves resources, and can ultimately be adopted by other retailers for a range of consumer products."

The Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute, a national non-profit organization that promotes sustainable resource use, managed an EPA “eCycling” grant. PSI designed and implemented the project along with Staples to test whether computer recycling could be consistent with Staples’ business model. Analysis of the pilot indicated that eCycling was cost effective, and was well received by consumers and Staples.

"The Staples program shows that retailers can take-back used consumer products from their customers just as easily as they currently take back damaged or unwanted products," said Cassel. “The next step is to remove the “end-of-life” fee charged to consumers, as part of a national system.”

Conducted during the summer of 2004, the project collected unwanted electronic equipment sold by Staples (including laptops, computer processing units, monitors, printers, fax machines, and small peripheral devices) from both retail and commercial customers, and provided recycling services using “reverse logistics” via Staples’ delivery trucks and its existing product distribution network.

PSI concluded that a retail collection model was a viable option to complement and expand the existing eWaste collection infrastructure, although retailers may conclude that nominal user fees would need to be charged to consumers to offset the collection and recycling costs.  Generally, high transportation costs are one of the barriers for providing cost-efficient eCycling services.

The pilots collected and recycled a total of 57 tons of eWaste during several months in mid-2004. In one program, Staples collected electronic equipment from retail customers at 27 Staples retail stores in five states (Maine [10 stores], Mass. [8 stores], N.H. [5 stores], Conn. [3 stores] and R.I. [1 store]) over a six-week period. In a second program, Staples collected electronic equipment from 14 existing commercial customers in three states (Mass., Maine and N.H.) who typically receive direct delivery of products at their place of business. This pilot tested the “reverse logistics” transportation model using Staples’ product delivery networks. The collected equipment was back-hauled by delivery carriers, consolidated at distribution and fulfillment centers, and then transported to Envirocycle, an electronics recycler located in Hallstead, Penn.

Information on the Staples pilot project is available at:
http://www.productstewardship.us/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=72.

Information on EPA’s Plug-in To eCycling program is at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/plugin/index.htm.

The Responsible Purchasing Network recommends specifying product takeback in electronics contracts. Use our Responsible Purchasing Guides for Office Electronics and Computers to learn how to integrate takeback into contract specifications.

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