Don’t Forget to eCycle

With the excitement and anticipation of Windows 8 building and the new era of digital device experiences on the horizon ; it is time to do a little housekeeping.

"Stack of Macs," Credit: Simon Law Source:
Credit: Simon Law “Stack of Macs” Source:

According to a 2008 report from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Americans now own approximately 24 electronic products per household (CEA, 2008 ). If you work in a technology-related field, that number is likely a gross understatement today. Anthropologist will likely look at this period of human history as the era we acquired electronic gadgets that did not last very long. Moreover, as academic institutions grapple with the retirement of old computing equipment and the rise of the “BYOD du jour syndrome”, we are about to fill our nation’s landfields with a lot of obsolete or useless electronic junk.

What Are We Buying?
The leading consumer electronic device is the television–TV, telly, box, boob tube, small screen. According the CEA, 99% of American households own at least one TV (CEA, 2012) . (I wonder does the rise in TV adoption correlate with the decline in our PISA Reading scores.) Our TVs range from LCD, LED, and plasma flat panel to your traditional tube television. While no one has bought a VCR in awhile, DVD players, Blu-Ray players, video game consoles (plus accessories), and surround sound audio gear complete the living room TV collection.  The decline in basic cellphones are giving rise to smartphones. Tablet computers and digital media players are on also getting an uptick.  Digital cameras are still growing in adoption because we love beautiful images. Also, laptops and desktop computers are still hot items.

Wow, can you imagine the power needed to keep all of this on and charged?

Industry experts predict that consumer spending on digital equipment will slowdown as people consolidate their digital experiences to fewer devices.  For example, I use a sophisticated pedometer to keep track of my health. However, the functionality of the pedometer could easily be served by a smartphone that has a larger display and is more likely to be in my frequent possession.  Plus, a smartphone serves other needs from cloud-based content consumption to social networking to airline boarding passes to electronic purchases without a credit card.   The consolidation of digital devices will help in the long run.  However, we still have a mountain of digital dung to properly dispose of in the meanwhile.

Riding the eCycle
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has provided guidance for Electronics Recycling (eCycling) so that we can protect the planet in our gadget prone generation. This guidance is primarily for consumers and households. Depending on where you live, each state has local guidance for eCycling programs in your area.  Best Buy, a Microsoft partner, also provides eCycle services for a host products at their stores that help you start the consolidation today.

While writing this article, I found half-a-dozen obsolete cellphones and smartphones in my home.  Technically, the phones work and will make calls. However, some of them are from carriers that I no longer subscribe services or batteries will not hold a charge.  Others are basic cellphones that pale in comparison to my Windows Phone.  A couple of them are older Windows Mobile devices that pre-date the current generation Windows Phone. I am sure you have some similar phone devices scattered around your home.

But did you know, that you could mail your old phones and batteries back to the carriers or the manufacturers to eCycle them?

The EPA has information for donating your old phone or eCycling it here.  There are only three major phone platforms. All of them will be getting a refresh by the end of the year. So, pin this site as a reference before you upgrade.

What about Institutional eCycling?
As CIO, I instituted a recycling program to remove the stockpiles of equipment that decades of educational technology had afforded us. Today, your state should have guidance that you can find on your respective state’s environmental quality website.  In most cases, you should be able to recycle for free and with the company you purchase your computing equipment. My home state of Texas enacted legislation for computer-equipment manufacturers and retailers to provide recycling services for free. You should find similar guidance in your home state.

For institutions and consumers, you should find out about recycling your old computing equipment and mobile devices prior to or at the time of purchase. The most important consideration that you have to make now is how to handle the disposition of your personal or instiutional data.  Cloud services, data syncing, and backup storage technologies are your best options.  However, you should also ensure that the credentials to access content you have stored in the cloud or on a synchronized hard drive is no longer available on the dispose device.

The Cloud Makes eCycling Easier
For all smartphones and Windows devices, I highly recommend using SkyDrive and Hotmail for personal use.  It has been years since I stored personal information on my phone’s SIM card.  All of my data is stored in Microsoft’s Live cloud services. It makes it easier to move between phones or mobile carriers when my data is accessible through the cloud. Of course, this requires that your phone have a supporting data plan.  On Windows, my photos, music, documents, and videos are always available through SkyDrive on my phone, PC, and tablet.  The synchronization saves me from having all of my data eggs in one digital basket.

For large institutions, Office 365 keeps all of your contacts, calendars, communications, and documents in the cloud. As new devices become available, you just login to the cloud and ecycle your old equipment.  Microsoft has other data protection technologies to prevent unauthorize access and use. I will share those at another time.

In the interim, ask yourself if you can use fewer devices? I am pretty sure that I can. If you can, use the resources below to start your personal ecycle program.

Share your ecycle story in the comments below.

EPA eCycling Information

EPA Cellphone Donations and Recycling

Best Buy eCycling Information


Works Cited
Consumer Electronics Association. (2012). 14th Annual CE Ownership and Market Potential Study. Arlington: CEA.

Consumer Electronics Association. (April 2008). Market Research Report: Trends in CE Reuse, Recycle and Removal. Arlington, VA: CEA.