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Issue 34
, 2012
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Recycling flies under the radar at CES

Jake Thomas
Source:, Date: , 2012

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, an annual event that showcases the latest gadgets, concluded last week in Las Vegas and while the show did highlight green innovations in electronics, the issue of electronics recycling was more barely mentioned.

Last year's CES gave greater prominence to the recycling efforts of companies like Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, Toshiba and LG. Greenpeace also released its Green Electronics Survey, bringing greater attention to the issue.

This year, design for recycling and sustainable electronics mostly stayed out of the spotlight, with a few notable exceptions. A San Diego-based startup, ecoATM, , had its electronics buy-back kiosks that consumers can use to trade in their portable devices on display at the show. U.S. Micro Corporation, an IT disposition company, used the event to announce the opening of its new $20 million, 130,000-square-foot electronics recycling center in Las Vegas. IT reseller Gazelle released the results of a survey of show attendees suggesting that there would be high turnover in consumer electronics.

Michael Feibelman, CEO and founder of asset recovery firm 2nd Solutions, has been attending the show in Las Vegas for about the last decade, and says the issue of electronics recycling wasn’t very prevalent this year, which he notes is surprising given that there was an entire pavilion dedicated to green gadgets coupled with how the issue has caught the attention of manufacturers. Feibelman says there were just a handful of companies focused on electronics recycling at CES.

"They’re pushing the latest and greatest glitz," he says of most companies at CES. "As far as recycling solutions, there wasn’t a lot of focus on that."

"Sustainability has seemed to first be niche, then all the buzz, then sent back into the corner," noted Environmental blog TreeHugger, which pointed out that the show's "Sustainable Planet TechZone" was moved out of main conference building this year. "And as far as discussion of cradle-to-cradle design, designing for longevity, repair of electronics, recycling and e-waste, and many other topics vital to the sustainability of consumer electronics – well, that barely happens."

Doug Smith, director of corporate environment, safety and health for Sony, wrote in an email exchange with E-Scrap News that progress has been made on making electronics more sustainable and that just because companies aren't crowing about their environmental initiatives at CES doesn't mean that they aren't there. He wrote that just about every product featured at CES would be considered green compared those on the market five years ago because of the efforts of companies like Sony that have sought to lessen the environmental impact of electronics.

"[The products at CES] are all more energy efficient, multi-function, miniaturized, lighter in weight (conserving resources), are lead-free, etc, etc.," he wrote. "Virtually none of the products will fail the U.S. EPA TCLP test for toxicity."

He noted that Sony had a display of its environmental initiatives at its booth at CES, including a CD/DVD recycling project where plastic is reused to make new parts for its products. Other companies, wrote Smith, incorporate environmental messages into their products displays, resulting in a diluted message.

As an expo focused on new products, recycling and end-of-life issues have never been the focus of CES anyway, but given the recent trend toward sustainability and recycling in the marketing of new electronics, its low profile at the 2012 show comes with some surprise. But whether recycling reappears in a big way at future shows or not, the design improvements made in the last several years are here to stay.