In 10 metro areas across the country, the United States Postal Service has launched a new pilot program that allows people to submit old inkjet cartridges, toner cartridges, and small electronics for proper disposal and recycling via free pre-paid mailers that customers can pick up at Post Office branches. If the program is successful, it could be expanded nationwide by this fall.
The Postal Service is acting as the administrator and delivery mechanism for the program. The yeoman's work is being handled by Clover Technologies Group, which pays for all of the shipping costs and handles of the disposal, recycling, and refurbishing of the technologies. The small electronics that can be submitted include PDAs, smartphones, standard cellphones, digital cameras, and MP3 players.
"We know our customers are interested in real solutions for proper disposal of personal electronics," said Anita Bizzotto, chief marketing officer of the USPS. "Everyone from consumers to businesses to non-profit organizations use the mail, and the Postal Service works to manage resources wisely to minimize environmental impact."
Clover has a "zero waste to landfill" policy. It first tries to refurbish and resell items that are still useful. If that's not possible, then the item is broken down and the component parts are used to refurbish other products. Any materials that are left over are then recycled. That approach is why Clover beat out 19 other bidders for the contract, according to Bizzotto.
"As one of the nation's leading corporate citizens, the Postal Service is committed to environmental stewardship," she said. "This program is one more way the Postal Service is empowering consumers to go green."
I'm not sure what other ways "the Postal Service is empowering consumers to go green," but this is a big move by the USPS, and if it goes nationwide, it could become a valuable asset for IT departments, especially in small businesses and remote offices.
Large corporate headquarters often partner with a big local recycler that regularly picks up old equipment, but small offices typically have a do-it-yourself approach that involves someone on the staff doing drop-offs at local recycling centers.
There is one other item that it would be great to see this program include: batteries. In my experience, there are too few waste management programs that process batteries and there are far too many people that still throw them in landfills. Sending batteries through the mail probably wouldn't be a good idea because of potential for leakage, but making post office branches a central location for battery drop-off would be a great solution. The batteries could then be properly shipped in bulk from the branches.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.