Consumer Corner: We love our gadgets, but oh the waste

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  Oct. 10, 2010 at 4:30 AM
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CHICAGO, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- There's no doubt Americans love their gadgets with televisions in nearly every room and cellphones, computers, e-readers and music players covering surfaces and stuffing pockets and purses.

In fact we love them so much, few of us part with them even when they're out-of-date or just don't work, a survey by Retrevo, an online service that analyzes the latest thingamabob for those of us who are tech-challenged, indicated.

Retrevo's gadget census found only about a third of Americans say they recycle their gadgets with another third saying they haven't gotten around to it or don't care about recycling. Only 11 percent said recycling is not available in their areas.

"People are buying more new gadgets today than we ever have -- and that means collecting more old gadgets we never use," said Manish Rathi, vice president of marketing and co-founder of Retrevo. "It's time to stop making excuses … There are many avenues available to recycle electronics now and we encourage people to take responsibility and recycle their unused gadgets."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency examined the issue in 2008. Its report found electronics made up 2 percent of municipal waste. From 1980 to 2007, 235 million pieces of electronics had accumulated in storage, including 65.7 million desktop computers, 42.4 million computer monitors, 2.1 million notebook computers, 99.1 million televisions and 25.2 million hard copy peripherals. Considering the explosion in new devices since then, the numbers have only one way to go.

"Of the 2.25 million tons of TVs, cell phones and computer products ready for end-of-life management, 18 percent (414,000 tons) was collected for recycling and 82 percent (1.84 million tons) was disposed of, primarily in landfills," the EPA said. "From 2006 to 2007, the recycling rate increased to 18 percent possibly because several states have started mandatory collection and recycling programs for electronics."

"We calculate that by the end of 2010 there will be so much e-waste accumulated since the year 2000, it could cover the island of Manhattan in old electronics three feet deep," Retrevo said. "Factoring in data from this same EPA report, we project by the year 2020 there will be so many old, unused or broken computers, printers, cellphones and TVs, they could fill enough dump trucks to circle the earth twice."

The San Francisco Bay area has the greatest percentage of recyclers at 52 percent, followed by Washington (48 percent), Phoenix (47 percent), Los Angeles (46 percent) and Chicago (43 percent).

Gadget worship varies from one part of the United States to another. People in New York state are more likely to have iPads than those elsewhere while Maryland has the greatest percentage of smartphones and flat panel televisions. Laptops are most popular in Colorado, e-readers in Massachusetts, point-and-shoot cameras in Michigan and low-tech phones in Pennsylvania, Retrevo found.

People living in Atlanta were more likely to have a television in every room than others. Eighty-eight percent of us have a television in the living room, 68 percent in the bedroom and 17 percent in the kitchen. Showing some restraint, only 3 percent admitted having a television in the bathroom and 7 percent in the garage.

Retrevo surveyed 7,500 people from March through July. The survey has a 4 percentage point error rate and 95 percent confidence level.

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