#E-waste in Vermont... Steward vs. Steward

In 2001, Vermont communities began holding "one-day events". A nice start, which the rest of the USA wished it followed.

By 2007, events were passe. Most communities had permanent collection programs. Like tires, white goods, auto batteries, air conditioners, etc. a small fee applied. People paid it, by and for all.

In 2009, two Giants came to Vermont to "participate".

One "Steward" went to the communities with long established shared (consumer, municipality, recycler) electronics recycling programs, and said "I'll play too". Sony started to pay for the recycling of all of their products, collected through the ongoing system. No major press, but residents who drove up with a Sony to recycle were surprisedly pleased that it was for free.

The other "Steward" (Samsung) paid an out of state recycling conglomerate to come in and hold "one day" free events. Their recycler is a really good company (though it has virually 0% reuse), and they collected thousands on pounds on a few Saturdays, and vanished. It sent the signal - if you paid before, you were a sucker. If you waited until tomorrow? Too bad.

One OEM program builds upon Vermont's established 84% access program. The other cannibalizes it, taking material and money out of the system. Then they take their subsidies and leave.

The Dell Goodwill program and Staples programs are between the two - not participating in the existing infrastructure, not limited to one day. But no "heavy lifting"... they are taking computer scrap, which Good Point makes money on, and leave the heavy obsolete TVs for the Vermont municipalities to carry.

Here's our plan. If a manufacturer wants to choose an out of state conglomerate, no problem, but please allow the existing infrastructure access to it. Samsung could have had trailerloads delivered to their vendor from Vermont, saving shipping costs. We don't insist on processing our own material. For the Goodwill program, Good Point Recycling has followed suit, offering computer recycling for free, and increasing the costs on TVs. That should, theoretically, allow us to deliver the monitors we collected for free to Goodwill. If their real interest is supporting the infrastructure to include places in VT with no Goodwill (there's only one store in VT), then they should take the computers collected for free in other places, and allow Good Point to deliver them (free delivery). So far, they will accept monitors for free only from our clients, not ones we collect free from our clients.

Meanwhile, as we pass the costs onto the TVs no one is fighting for, it increases the pressure on municipalities to back legislation, like New York's, to pass costs to OEMs. I am not a big believer in putting the Manufacturer (fox) in charge of the reuse market (henhouse). But Good Point also can't be sending the signals to municipality clients that we are deaf to the TV costs being passed down to their residents, as we compete more aggressively for the computers.

You'd think by now, Good Point or the Vermont ANR would have gotten a phone call from Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, Samsung, etc. An attaboy, something that says they appreciate that VT consumers and municipalties set up a viable system without them. Maybe recognition that the market they are interfering in has a value. Maybe try to work out a way to participate within it.

Sony is the only manufacturer to dialogue with us. The Samsung program? Like Goodwill, their recycling conglomerate / contractor refused to allow us to deliver Samsung and other product to them, whether or not we took it for free. The national recycling company instead uses the grants to target "free" recycling directly at key Vermont Cities with long established permanent drop-off programs. If Samsung maps where their dollars are being spent, they will see them grouped up in areas where the conglomerate wishes to take over the permanent program. Nothing in Arizona, where TVs are not collected, lots spent where New England recyclers have already set up a viable "shared responsibility" system.

I hope whoever is in charge at Samsung takes a look at how the national contractor is spending their money in a land-grab, to take away tonnage from programs that were already set up without their help. How much did they spend per capita on Vermonters, vs states which have never had an e-waste collection? How many of those Vermonters already had a sustainable, long-maintained, shared responsibility program? How does use of their grant money differ from Standard Oil, offering penny-a-gallon gasoline for six months in the areas they were interested in gaining market share?

Fortunately for us? Anti-trust laws are enforced by the Vermont Attorney General's office.

Trying to keep my powder dry. There aren't really any bad guys in this story, just clumsy people who probably have not thought through the unintended consequences, or at worst don't have a lawyer telling them about the Sherman Act. If they were successful in putting Good Point Recycling out of business, do the OEMs really want me to be blogging full time? Putting us out of work is bad for legislation, bad for access to TV recycling, and bad for the planet. The guys at Sony have been participating in the municipal recycling infrastructure longer than anyone else, since the 1990s. Our shared responsibility, coupon-model, is worth a look.

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