FY2003 OSWER Innovation Pilot Results Fact Sheet
Collectins and Recycling
Used Computers via a
Reverse Distribution System
The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste and
Emergency Response initiated a series of innovative pilot projects to
test ideas and strategies for improved environmental and public health
results. This series of fact sheets highlights the innovative approaches,
results, and environmental and economic benefits from the pilot
projects that may be replicated across various sectors, industries,
communities, and regions.
EPA awarded an Innovation grant to the Product
Stewardship Institute (PSI) to study the costs and
potential benefits of collecting used electronics through
a "reverse distribution network" as an alternative to
traditional disposal in the municipal solid waste stream.
Reverse distribution essentially uses the same retail
stores that people buy electronic equipment from as a
collection point for used electronics, to make the disposal
process convenient for households and businesses.
This project represented the first attempt to apply reverse
distribution concepts to the electronics retail industry, as
well as the first shared responsibility partnership between
electronics retailers and their suppliers.
Several retailers already managed used electronic
products from returns, lease exchanges, and the
replacement of their own equipment. However, none of
the financial models for calculating costs for a national
collection, transportation, and recycling infrastructure
had considered the cost savings from backhauling used
electronics by reversing the existing distribution system.
Used electronic products are the most rapidly growing
waste problem in the world due to their toxicity, amount,
volume, and rapid obsolescence. A1999 study by
the National Safety Council estimated that more than
20 million personal computers became obsolete in
the United States in 1998, and estimated that 300
million computers would become outdated by 2004.
The components in discarded computers and other
electronics contain numerous toxic substances, including
lead, mercury, cadmium, copper, lithium, brominated
	Collected and recycled 4,522 units of used computer
equipment weighing 57 tons at a cost of $7,983.10..
	Determined recycling costs were about one-third
below market value, translating to 28.9 cents per
pound for retail equipment and 33.7 cents per pound
for commercial equipment in a non-pilot setting.
	Staples implemented the first national retail
electronics collection program based on the EPA
Innovation pilot.
flame retardants and phosphorus. These toxic materials
can be released to the environment as leachate from
landfills or as air emissions from waste-to-energy facilities,
posing a threat to human health and the environment.
State and local governments lack the necessary
infrastructure and funds to properly manage these
In December 2000, the PSI held the country's first
national Product Stewardship forum and focused on
electronic products among five priority waste streams.
Partly as a result of this forum, the National Electronics
Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI) emerged in 2003.
Coordinated by PSI, the NEPSI was a formal national
dialogue among electronics manufacturers, state and local
government agencies, recyclers, and non-governmental
organizations. Through NEPSI, PSI developed an
electronics management system that shared responsibility
among manufacturers, retailers, governmental and non-
governmental organizations.

Initiated in 2003, the pilot involved a six week electronic
equipment collection period in Summer 2004. During
this time, the office supply company Staples collected
and recycled computer equipment including computer
processing units (CPUs), computer monitors, laptops,
large peripherals (e.g., printers, fax machines, desktop
copiers, scanners) and small peripherals (e.g., keyboards,
mice, speakers, cables) from customers at 27 retail stores
and 14 businesses in five northeastern states. Through
reverse distribution, Staples transported the materials from
multiple collection points to its distribution centers and
on to the designated recycler, Envirocycle. The cost and
customer satisfaction data collected through the electronics
management system were evaluated, and the suitability
of the reverse distribution model for national program
expansion was assessed.
The pilot was part of EPA's "Plug-In to eCycling" Project,
which added additional financial and technical support and
the participation of 10 computer manufacturers including
Apple Computer Inc., Brother International Corp., Dell, Epson
America Inc., HP, Intel, Lexmark International Inc., Panasonic,
Sharp Electronics Corp., and Sony Electronics Inc. These
manufacturers agreed to cover the cost of processing their
own brand equipment, as well as to pay a portion of the cost
to manage computers from non-participating companies for
electronic equipment collected by the pilot.
This pilot project demonstrated the feasibility and cost-
effectiveness of electronics retailers taking back unwanted
computer equipment using a reverse-logistics collection,
transportation, and recycling model. From an operational
perspective, the program was easy to implement and well
suited for national expansion. Project data confirmed both
a clear need and an opportunity to expand the collection
of used electronics at retail outlets. The pilot computer
recycling service was well received by retailers and the public,
and it was determined that any costs incurred by Staples could
be offset by a fee charged to customers, if needed.
The data collected enabled Staples to understand the
degree to which the reverse distribution collection approach
could be part of the company's sustainable business
model, and how it could be implemented on a national
scale. Each company that participated in this study
Lead: Product Stewardship Institute
Sponsor: U.S. EPA Region 1
Other Partners:
	Staples, Inc.
	States of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and
Rhode Island
	Ten computer manufacturers
OSWER Innovation Projects:
EPA WasteWise Electronics Challenge:
EPA's Plug-In to eCycling Program:
Product Stewardship Institute:
Staples EcoEasy Program:
indicated that Staples had provided a valuable service
and made it easy to collect the equipment. All project
participants wanted to see the program continue.
Following this pilot project, Staples continued to offer
computer recycling in its Seattle area stores. And in 2007,
based on the successes of this project, Staples started the
first national retail electronics collection program. Today,
through its EcoEasy Program, in partnership with EPA
and other environmental organizations, the retailer accepts
computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, cell phones,
and ink and toner cartridges for recycling for a small fee to
help offset recycling costs. Smaller items like keyboards,
mice and speakers are free to drop off for recycling.
Since the pilot was conducted, several other computer
manufacturers and retailers now provide a variety of
convenient opportunities to recycle computers including,
Best Buy, Dell, Sony, HP, Office Depot, NEC, Toshiba,
Fujitsu, and Reconnect (a Dell and Goodwill partner).
A	United States
Environmental Protection
m m Agency
OSWER Innovation Pilot Results Fact Sheet 
Collecting and Recycling Used Computers
via a Reverse Distribution System
July 2010