Earth Month in April is a time when companies push their sustainability press releases. Sometimes the announcements are legitimate efforts to change their practices to be less harmful to the Earth. Other times they’re a bunch of greenwash.
To that end, this month my inbox was filled with announcements about new products, partnerships and programs. One that I was intrigued by is Best Buy’s Standalone Haul-Away service, in which the company or its recycling partners pick up electronic waste.
Through the nearly $200 one-time service, the company will go to customers' homes to take away up to two large products (think TVs, washers and all-in-one computers) along with an unlimited number of smaller products (laptops, cameras, gaming consoles and even hair dryers).
This program builds on Best Buy’s in-store e-waste collection program and a pick-up pilot that it ran in St. Louis during Earth Month in 2021.
"That test in St. Louis showed us we can do this," said Tim Dunn, Best Buy’s head of environmental sustainability. "We can stand this up on a national level, we can utilize our own existing service to get to customers’ homes, we can utilize our existing recycling services to bring this product back through our supply chain facilities."
The company has a similar program for its corporate customers, fulfilled by its Best Buy for Business teams. That one fits a different customer need and moves large volumes of items. "It includes things like [having] potentially dozens of items that need to be wiped to protect customer data and products that may have been programmed for a certain business use," Dunn said. "We want to have more of a white glove service with our recycling partners in that sense."
For context, the e-waste problem is pretty huge. Globally, only 17.4 percent of e-waste was documented to be formally collected and recycled in 2019, according to the United Nations Global E-waste Monitor report. And the value of all of the e-waste generated that year in addition to the materials that can be harvested from them, such as iron, copper and gold, is $57 billion.
Best Buy has a handful of recycling partners across the United States, including Regency Technologies, URT Solutions and Electronic Recyclers International, the largest IT recycling and refurbishment company in the country. In collaboration with its partners, Best Buy noted that it has helped recycle more than 2 billion pounds of electronics and appliances since 2009, when it first established its recycling program.
Customers can continue to take items into Best Buy stores for free, but Dunn said the goal of the new service was to make recycling as easy as buying.
Dunn said one learning from the St. Louis pilot was the importance of customer awareness. "I think that cuts across all of our recycling programs. Recycling is really a game of convenience and awareness and getting to the customer when they're motivated to recycle."
For the expansion of the haul-away service, Best Buy said it trained its store employees to speak eloquently and thoroughly about its recycling programs and services. Additionally, the company’s PR and marketing teams added messaging to its website and social media.
These recycling programs are just part of Best Buy’s approach to addressing the e-waste problem.
"It's about the full cycle of the product," Dunn said, noting that the company seeks to help customers find the right product upfront by asking questions such as, "What do you want your electronics to do for you? What are you trying to solve for?" Then the company seeks to make sure the product works the way a customer wants it to work, he said.
Our primary purpose right now is to try to bring this concept of making recycling as easy as it is to buy.
When products are no longer of use to a person, a consumer can take it back to Best Buy through a trade-in program, in which they receive a gift card with the established value of the item, or a recycling program. "And we can find a second life for that product," Dunn said.
When a product is traded in or recycled, its partners wipe data from it, if applicable, then repair it or resell it, if possible. If the item is no longer in condition to be sold, they determine if any parts can be kept and used to repair other electronics. And if the product is really at its end-of-life, partners put the raw materials from the devices into the commodities market to be sold.
Dunn pointed to Best Buy’s partnership with HP as an example of a commodity-level use for materials collected from its recycling program. Back in 2018, the companies collaborated by using the plastic from recycled electronics collected by Best Buy to manufacture new HP printers.
Best Buy said it has not set an updated e-waste collection goal after recently hitting 2 billion pounds since 2009. "Our primary purpose right now is to try to bring this concept of making recycling as easy as it is to buy," Dunn said.