Amazon Trade-in Program a Step in Right Direction

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It's immaterial whether Amazon's move to accept used electronic devices in exchange for gift cards - even if the device wasn't bought from the company - was made to drum up business, to be environmentally correct or a bit of both. Whatever the reason, the move is welcome.

CNET reports that you should check out Amazon's Trade-in page for the value that each device brings. Prices range from a quarter for many cell phones to $480 for an iPad 2. The post provides more details, and points to a relatively similar buy-back program launched this year by Best Buy.

This is good news as efforts are being made to control the growing mountain of aged-out phones, PCs and other devices.

Two things happen to an old piece of equipment: It gets discarded or it ends up in sock drawers or the back drawers of desks. Throwing the device into a landfill is, of course, the worst alternative. Many harmful elements, such as cadmium, mercury and lead, are present in electronic devices. Once thrown out, they often make their way to illegal dump sites, many of which are in Africa.

This very interesting Waste Management World article describes what investigators from the Environmental Investigation Agency - an organization with offices in London and New York City - learned about the African disposal underworld via tracking devices attached to two televisions discarded in the UK.

What happens to old devices is troubling. An unfortunate reality is that there are many bad actors waiting to take advantage of this huge, worldwide and lightly controlled situation. On one hand, according to eWeek Europe's Peter Judge, developing nations need electronic devices of all types. Much of what is discarded in the developed world indeed still works or could easily be repaired. Judge, who was reacting to the same report as Waste Management World, writes that a lot of electronic gear is shipped to these nations as working gear that can be reused but in fact is dumped.

The better fate for discarded equipment is recycling, which is why the Amazon and Best Buy programs are good news. One point of a feature I wrote in April was that recycling has a double benefit: Not only does it keep the dangerous materials from contaminating the environment, but it means that a bit less must be taken out of the earth to build new devices.

The good news, it seems, is that supply and demand exist, and the situation can be rectified by closing loopholes and enforcing rules. In the big scheme of things, Amazon's move may be a small one. Increasingly, however, efforts such as this - and laws and regulations mandating municipal collections and other positive steps - are springing up. That's heartening.

The biggest challenge remains international cooperation, since telecommunications and the equipment that drives it, knows no borders. Thus, another good piece of news is that the United Nations is launching a project to track the flow of electronic devices and stimulate recycling.