Notes on E-cycle Wisconsin

The Department of Natural Resources has been a consistent and reliable resource for Bay View’s residential electronics collection program. It has provided guidance and useful advertising materials throughout our first year along with knowledgeable human resource personnel. My experience with Program Director Sarah Murray and the E-cycle Wisconsin team in general has been positive.

Despite the efforts and support from the D.N.R., significant economic and infrastructural challenges exist. From an economic perspective, the cost of labor, transportation and a facility far outweigh the revenue generated by electronic waste recovery alone. Recyclers charge a standard pick-up fee and only compensate the collector for computers fully in tact. I raise this point not as a complaint, but merely to provide some context. A a small loss was expected going into the program. That is not the main issue. The main issue has more to do with supply chain integrity.

Wisconsin’s e-waste infrastructure needs clear transparency for the consumer. Recyclers are less than forthcoming about their “middle men” or broker status. In my experience, many have claimed either directly by phone or indirectly through nuanced language that they handle ALL of the recycling. Meaning, not only do they extract the resource material, but they also have the burden of extracting the waste. This simply is not the case. Most “recyclers” are acting as brokers. Extracting only the valuable material and “getting rid of” the costly waste material. Code for, we ship the waste to another broker, and then another broker ships the waste, again, AND AGAIN. It’s a never ending cycle that defeats the purpose of the program  in the first place.

The fact that the essential nature of recycling, resource efficiency, is being compromised is unfortunate and unsettling. There is a systems problem that clearly needs to be worked out, but even more, there is a problem of industry integrity. I hope to see a change.