Survey Finds More of Us Are Doing It, but Much E-Waste Remains in Storage

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

A survey by the state Department of Natural Resources confirmed that most Wisconsin residents are managing unwanted electronics responsibly, but many are still unsure how to recycle electronics or face other barriers to recycling old devices.

The report highlights how many electronics are in Wisconsin households as well as trends in consumer awareness and electronics recycling behavior. The survey, conducted last year, showed the number of unused electronics in Wisconsin households continues to grow and a large share of households are storing devices they no longer use.

“Our household surveys have consistently shown that not knowing where or how to recycle electronics is a significant barrier to someone successfully recycling.” – Sarah Murray, E-Cycle Wisconsin coordinator for the Wisconsin DNR

Of the estimated 26.3 million devices in Wisconsin households, 9.3 million devices were not in use – about 22% of TVs, 30% of computers, and 50% of cellphones. 

“Our household surveys have consistently shown that not knowing where or how to recycle electronics is a significant barrier to someone successfully recycling,” says Sarah Murray, E-Cycle Wisconsin coordinator for the DNR. “Now is good time to look for options, since more collection events are hosted in the spring and summer. Our list of collection sites gets updated as sites provide dates of events.”

In Eau Claire County, the next electronics disposal event is Saturday, Sept. 14, from 8am to 1pm at First Choice Computer Recycling, 525 Park Ridge Court, Eau Claire. Discounted rates will be offered at the event for Eau Claire County and  City of Eau Claire residents.

Murray says the DNR has conducted five statewide household recycling surveys since 2010, when Wisconsin’s electronics recycling law took effect. The law included a disposal ban for certain types of electronics and established E-Cycle Wisconsin, a manufacturer-funded program administered by the DNR that helps support a statewide network of electronics collectors and recyclers. As of 2019, households and schools have recycled nearly 300 million pounds of electronics through E-Cycle Wisconsin.

In the 2018 survey, among households that had a device they no longer wanted, the most common action was to put it in storage. About two-thirds had stored unwanted cellphones and computers and about half had stored unwanted TVs during the previous 12 months. Nearly all households that did not store an unwanted device opted to recycle or reuse it. Only a small percentage reported putting a cellphone (2%), computer (3%) or TV (4%) in the trash.

The most common reason respondents cited for being unable to recycle a device was not knowing where or how to do so. About one-third of respondents overall said they did not know where to recycle electronics. Respondents also cited cost as a key barrier to recycling electronics. While many collection sites still take some items for free, most charge a fee to recycle some items, including TVs and monitors.

“Responsible electronics recycling has a cost,“ Murray says. “Recyclers must properly manage the hazardous materials and lithium-ion batteries found in many electronics, and protect data security. Manufacturer funding covers some of that cost, but consumer fees help make up the difference as well as cover collection and transportation costs.“

To help address the issue of cost and lack of convenient collection sites in some areas, the DNR launched an online list of free manufacturer mail-back programs in January. The mail-back program information is part of the interactive E-Cycle Wisconsin collection sites list, which allows residents to map nearby collection sites or look up locations by county.

“The DNR will continue to look for ways to work with communities, share recycling information, and support responsible recycling,” Murray says. “We’ve had many program successes and will continue to address barriers and challenges to recycling.”

The list and the full 2018 statewide household survey on electronics recycling can be accessed through the DNR website at dnr.wi.gov, search “Ecycle.“