The preliminary numbers are in, and officials in Washington say it's a good thing lower volumes of electronics were recycled in 2014 than in 2013.
"This is not an indication of a good program in decline nor is it a surprise," E-Cycle Washington said in announcing the 2014 figures. "From the onset in 2009, the Washington State Department of Ecology expected at some point to reach a peak in annual collections knowing that consumers had a significant volume of unused electronics stored in their homes."
E-Cycle Washington reports approximately 44.4 million pounds of electronics were recycled in 2014 through the state's e-scrap program, which is funded by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). For comparison, about 45.2 million pounds of e-scrap were diverted in 2013.
The main cause of the 1.8 percent decline appears to be falling computer monitor volumes and stabilizing TV totals. Just 5.1 million pounds of monitors were recycled in 2014 compared with 6.4 million pounds in 2013, while growth of TV recycling by weight was just 1.5 percent year-over-year after increasing by nearly 11 percent between 2012 and 2013.
Together, monitors and TVs still made up 93 percent of the weight collected through Washington's program during 2014.
Miles Kuntz, E-Cycle Washington's program manager, suspects soon-to-be-released numbers will indicate the program is taking in more flat panel devices and fewer of the heavy CRT products. In-depth figures showing collection totals by product type will be shared soon by the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority (WMMFA), the group responsible for coordinating OEM recycling efforts.
"I think those estimates could be very interesting," Kuntz said. "If overall CRT poundage is falling and flat screen poundage is increasing – and I think that is the case – it will be a pretty good indicator that the backlog of consumer electronics coming out of storage has peaked."
WMMFA did not return a request for comment.
Since the program started in 2009, E-Cycle Washington efforts have led to the collection of nearly 52 million pounds of monitors and more than 180 million pounds of TVs. The vast majority of that volume has come in the form of CRT devices, the nemesis of most state programs due to the high cost and labor involved with getting them properly recycled.
Unlike most other state programs, Washington's program does not set individual recycling goals for manufacturers to meet each year. Instead, Washington's program requires OEMs, under the WMMFA, to fund the recycling of all electronics garnered through the program's drop-off sites and collection events.
According to Kuntz, WMMFA has remained active in promoting the program and boosting drop-off sites.
"The number of collection sites actually increased very slightly from 2013 to 2014," Kuntz said. "The WMMFA has done a good job of advertising the program over the years through a variety of methods."
If state officials are accurate in their analysis of annual data, Washington's e-scrap program could be one of the first in the nation to have worked through its backlog of CRT devices. While estimates vary on the remaining tonnages throughout the country, the Consumer Electronics Association last year suggested 3.5 million tons of CRT devices still need to be recycled.