USPS to stamp out e-waste

Postal Service seeking contractors to develop ways to dispose used electronics

The U.S. Postal Service is looking for companies to help dispose of discarded electronics, called e-waste. Americans generate more than 2 million tons of this waste each year, according to an Environmental Protection Agency estimate.

USPS is considering the creation of a large-scale program for the safe and easy disposal of obsolete electronics. The agency is seeking one or more companies to become involved.

“We see this as an opportunity to participate in something really good that falls into exactly what we do — shipping and delivering goods,” said Dan Barrett, USPS’ acting manager of business planning.

In addition to being environmentally friendlier, Barrett said, companies that pay attention to their e-waste can benefit economically. Many devices can be refurbished and then sold to generate income, he said.

However, many companies have been slow to address e-waste recycling. Rick Goss, director of environmental affairs at the Electronic Industries Alliance, said some struggle with logistics, particularly when it comes to larger devices such as TVs and desktop computers.

“When it comes to larger, heavier equipment, there’s the question of whether or not the shipping cost is so great that it cancels out other economic benefits,” Goss said. “But there’s a real benefit to figuring this out because it’s essential in today’s business environment.”

Goss said some companies interested in launching e-recycling programs begin with objects such as cellular phones and printer cartridges, which are easy to dispose of because they are small and lightweight.

USPS plans to begin its program with inkjet and laser cartridges and cell phones but said it will consider expanding the program after its launch.

The basic idea behind the program is to make the disposal of e-waste as simple as mailing a package. In its request for proposals, the Postal Service noted that its ideal partner would assume the shipping cost for the recycled goods and either take possession of the e-waste or contract with another firm to do so.

Although USPS officials have not yet drafted a detailed plan for the e-waste program, they said they believe the agency’s infrastructure and daily business are perfect for a large-scale recycling venture.

If USPS succeeds in launching a large-scale e-waste disposal program, it would join only a handful of federal agencies committed to e-recycling.

“I think there’s an awareness of the problem but very little awareness of what to do about it,” said Oliver Voss, service center manager at the EPA’s Office of Acquisition Management. “A lot of agencies have also been reluctant to sign on to an e-waste program because of logistics and because of cost.”

Knight is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

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