Recovery of electronics products, while growing, faces numerous challenges.

Chaz Miller, Semi-retired, 40-year veteran of the waste and recycling industry

March 4, 2013

3 Min Read
Profiles in Garbage: Electronics Products

EPA waste characterization data covers “selected consumer electronics.” This category includes television sets, VCRs, DVD players, video cameras, stereos, phones and computer equipment.

Electronics products have saturated our economy as Americans embrace their ease of use. Yet their often-short lifespans, the complexity of their design and the variety of materials used in their construction complicate recycling. As a result, 25 states now have laws requiring recovery of electronics products. These laws vary widely in regard to which products are covered, which generators are accountable, system financing, recovery targets and who is responsible for managing recovery systems.

Because of widespread differences in state laws and in the date of implementation, per capita recovery rates vary dramatically from 0.47 pounds per household per year to 7.70 pounds per household per year. The oldest, most established programs average about 5.25 pounds per household per year.

Many of the state laws stem from fears that landfilled electronics products would create a toxic leachate. However, as EPA has testified before Congress, landfills are at a 6.8 pH (7.0 is neutral). As a result, leaching of lead or other constituent elements is highly unlikely in a subtitle D landfill.

The electronics recycling infrastructure includes dismantlers, processors and refurbishers.


Electronics Products Facts*


  •  3.32 million tons, or 1.3% by weight.

  •  21.5 pounds per person per year.

  •  CRT TVs and CRT monitors were nearly half, by weight, of the electronics that entered the waste stream in 2009.

  •  Mobile devices comprised the largest number of products, but less than one percent by weight in 2009.


  •  650,000 tons, a 19.6% recovery rate.

Recycling Rate by Product:

  •  EPA estimated the following 2010 product “collection for recycling” rates based on the total weight of each discarded product:

  •  Used computers: 40%

  •  Computer displays: 33%

  •  Hard-copy devices: 33%

  •  Used TV sets: 17%

  •  Mobile devices: 11%

  •  Keyboards/mice: 10%


  •  2.67 million tons, or 1.6% of discarded MSW by weight.

  •  18 states ban the disposal of one or more electronics products generated by individual consumers.

  •  All 50 states ban the disposal of electronics products generated by businesses or other large generators.

Source Reduction:

  •  Virtually all electronics products are becoming smaller and lighter as manufacturers race to develop new, easier-to-use products.

  •  Smaller sizes, improved technology and lower prices have increased the number of products.

Recycling Markets:

  •  Markets vary widely by product and due to state laws.

  •  In some states, industry organizations are responsible for collecting and marketing covered electronics products.

  •  Many discarded electronics products can be refurbished.

  •  Many recovered products are exported to overseas processors and end-markets.

End Market Specifications:

  •  Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) “Guidelines for Electronics Scrap: ES-2013”

  •  ISRI divides electronics scrap into five categories: IT and telecommunications electronics equipment; consumer electronics equipment; toys, leisure and sports electronics equipment; medical devices (except implanted and infected products and radioactive components); and monitoring and control instruments.

  •  The specifications cover five grades of electronics scrap metals, three grades of electronics scrap glass, seven grades of CRT glass cullet and 34 grades of electronics scrap plastics.



Electronics Recycling Coordinating Clearinghouse,

“Electronics Waste Management in the United States Through 2009,” U.S. EPA, Washington, 2011,

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste,

National Center for Electronics Recycling,

Scrap Specifications Circular, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington,

*Data is from 2010 EPA estimates, except where noted.

About the Author(s)

Chaz Miller

Semi-retired, 40-year veteran of the waste and recycling industry, National Waste & Recycling Association

Chaz Miller is a longtime veteran of the waste and recycling industry.

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