The Post Office and E-Waste, Perfect Together

Here’s a marriage that I wish I’d arranged myself. 

Responding to a significant and increasing decline in first class mail – due to the ever-growing use of email, on-line banking, and efforts like our own Catalog Choice – the U.S. Postal Service has come up with an exciting initiative to keep itself relevant, while also addressing a pressing environmental challenge. 

The U.S. Postal Service just began a free recycling program for small electronic devices. Have an old cell phone or camera to recycle and live in one of the 10 pilot cities?  Just put your device in one of the free prepaid pouches that will be available in your local post office and it gets sent to a nearby center for refurbishment or recycling. 

The postal service believes it can profit by recycling these obsolete electronics, which contain valuable, if often toxic materials. Electronics are of particular environmental concern because they are the fastest growing part of the residential waste stream and can contain lead, mercury, cadmium and other harmful materials.  And if this program is a success, the USPS may expand it to cover other materials, such as all those expired pharmaceuticals that have been turning up in our drinking water. 

Not only does this initiative hold out the promise for helping to keep our nation’s postal service relevant and in business, but it couldn’t come at a better time in helping to address the growing proliferation of e-waste. 

Those of you who have read my past blog posts will know that NRDC has been working to enact e-waste recycling laws for a number of years, including a set of bills in New York City that will pass next week.  Like nine other state laws currently in place, New York’s plan requires manufacturers to create programs to take back their discarded products. 

Which brings us back to the USPS take-back initiative.  Because every community in the country has a Post Office, this program has the potential to help manufacturers who are still figuring out how to get their products back from consumers.  If the small electronic pilot succeeds, there will be a tremendous opportunity for the USPS to build on that success by partnering with manufacturers to take back electronics of all sizes. 

The USPS should be applauded for advancing this progressive take-back initiative, which has the potential to benefit its employees, consumers and the environment all in one fell swoop.  This is just the kind of creative thinking we’d all like to see more of – if not to come up with ourselves!