PC makers, critics join eBay recycle push

Online auction company eBay Inc. yesterday unveiled an initiative to join PC makers and their environmental critics in an effort to recycle more of the up to 400 million electronic products that are thrown out every year.

EBay plans to promote the program on its site at ebay.com/rethink, where consumers can go to resell, recycle or donate used electronics.

News source: Computer World Together with Intel Corp., eBay has signed up top PC makers and computer distributors, along with leading industry environmental critics. Initial backers of the Rethink program include Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Apple Computer Inc., Gateway Inc., Ingram Micro Inc., United Parcel Service Inc. and the U.S. Postal Service.

The environmental critics backing the effort include the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and Texas Campaign for the Environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also signed up.

EBay CEO Meg Whitman said that while IT companies have created “some pretty innovative programs, I think we need to do more” to recycle electronic gear. She spoke at the International Consumer Electronics Show, where manufacturers from around the world regularly debut new products.

Ted Smith, leader of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and a frequent critic of the computer industry’s track record on recycling, said eBay’s willingness to act as a neutral broker was crucial to winning his group’s support. “They’ve got 120 million people coming to their site,” he said. “That’s the key number here.

“We want to drive business to local recyclers,” Smith said. “They are the good guys in this equation.”

One key player is missing, however: Dell Inc., the world’s largest maker of PCs, which has been a target of environmental campaigners who want to force the company to take a more active role in recycling obsolete computers. Whitman held out the possibility that Dell would eventually join the coalition.

“They [Dell] have not said no,” Whitman said. “That’s the good news. They just haven’t said yes.”

“We are still evaluating it,” Bryant Hilton, Dell’s spokesman for environmental programs, said later. He said a key issue is to raise consumer awareness of the issues involved.

“This program certainly hits the nail on the head,” Hilton said.

On its own site, Dell offers free computer and printer recycling with the purchase of new Dell equipment. Anyone looking to have an old computer picked up, whether or not they buy a replacement, can do so for a nominal fee to cover shipping, Hilton said.

Whitman said others in the consumer electronics industry would be invited to join the program.

Only 10% of unwanted PCs are recycled, according to the GrassRoots Recycling Network. Half of U.S. families admit to having an old PC in the closet, according to a survey conducted by eBay.

An eBay spokesman said some 1.2 million used computers are already sold on the company’s online marketplace each year. EBay sells $2.5 billion worth of computers and an equal amount of consumer electronics each year.


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