HP launches product-recycling program

Joining a growing group of electronics makers, the company offers a fee-based service that allows consumers and businesses to recycle PCs and related products.

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April 21, 2001
Joining a growing group of companies in the electronics industry, Hewlett-Packard announced on Monday a fee-based service that allows consumers and businesses to recycle unwanted computers and related products.

The service, part of HP's Planet Partners program, will accept the equipment regardless of the manufacturer for a fee ranging from $13 to $34. People will be able to purchase the service online at the Environment section of HP's Web site, the company said.

The announcement puts HP in sync with a movement among computer makers to take back obsolete equipment from consumers in the United States, riding a wave of current and pending legislation in Europe and elsewhere mandating programs along these lines. The efforts mark governments and industry coming to grips with the rapid obsolescence of electronics equipment, which has become the fastest-growing component of municipal waste.

HP will launch the service in Europe on June 1, tailored to individual countries. Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy already require manufacturer-financed take-back programs, the company said.

A key issue for manufacturers has been the costs involved in take-back programs, something that the fee is intended to address. No one is yet sure how consumers will respond to a request that they pay to throw away their old computers, printers and the like.

"There's a pretty high overhead cost," said Renee St. Denis, environmental business unit manager at HP. "There's also the issue of, do all customers want this service?"

IBM launched a similar recycling initiative in November, in which consumers can get rid of any manufacturer's computer equipment for $29.99. Sony Electronics has a no-cost drop-off program that is limited to its own products and to the state of Minnesota. Retailer Best Buy this summer plans to begin a recycling program that will involve a fee.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP drew praise from waste watchers in the state. The technology giant has its recycling facility in Roseville, Calif., and plans to open a similar recycling site in Nashville, Tenn., in July.

"It's a very good start toward solving the electronics management issue we're facing," said Mark Kennedy, a technical adviser for the California Integrated Waste Management Board. "I like the sliding scale of fees. I like also that they're handling all the materials right here in California or the U.S., rather than shipping them overseas."

Still, he said, the fee could put a crimp in consumers' acceptance of the program.

Recycling is not new at HP. Like IBM, Dell Computer and others, it has long had a program for handling its own end-of-life equipment.

"The difference is in the investment HP has made in understanding" the full scale of handling obsolete electronic products, St. Denis said. "We know for sure what happens to ours. Nothing ends up in landfills or exported."

HP has also been taking back spent cartridges for its laser and ink-jet printers for about a decade.

The program that goes into effect Monday will accept a wide range of goods, including PCs of various shapes and sizes, printers, monitors, scanners, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and routers. Pricing will depend on the quantity and type of product being returned. At the low end of the scale would be small personal printers, and at the high end, monitors and large laser printers.

The equipment will first be evaluated to see if it can be reused, and functional devices will be donated to charitable organizations or sent through other reuse channels. The remaining equipment will be recycled through a procedure, in cooperation with Micro Metallics, a subsidiary of mining company Noranda, to recover as much usable and potentially toxic materials as possible.

HP's Roseville facility processes up to 4 million pounds per month of used equipment from the computer maker and its corporate customers.