Lessons From Japan On How To Recycle Electronics

There’s a famous story about the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés when he arrived in Veracruz. Cortés had his own ships burned so they could not retreat and were forced to conquer. The real story is that he actually sunk the ships instead of burning them, but it’s the same idea. I like to think of this as Japan when it comes to recycling electronics. Japan is a small island and they have to be much more careful with how much they produce and how much they discard. In a way, they have burned the boats because Japan has no choice but to handle its waste issues. They may not be able to afford landfills with excess electronics spewing out toxins that are detrimental to the environment as well as human health. Japan has designed their system based on the 3R’s, reduce, reuse and recycle.

Japan has some regulations when it comes to discarding e-waste: the “Law for the Promotion of Effective Utilization of Resources (LPUR)” and the “Law for the Recycling of Specified Kinds of Home Appliances (LRHA)”. The first law essentially encourages the manufacturers of electronics to help out with the recycling of waste. The second law is essentially an add-on law that now requires LCD/Plasma televisions, clothing dryers, air conditioners, tube television sets, refrigerators and washing machines to be recycled.  The LRHA requires that consumers must cover the costs of recycling their appliances.

I’m interested to see what this would be like if implemented in a country like the United States. If we held the consumers and manufacturers accountable, would  we live in a very different society? I think it would change the consumer’s psychology because they would now be responsible for discarding their waste through proper recycling means. People would probably make more rational decisions when it comes to purchasing electronics if they knew they would have to properly recycle it rather than throw it away. Japan encourages reuse of their electronics as well. When most people purchase a new TV or a smart phone, do they really need a new one? As a recycler of electronic waste, we get thousands of pounds in each year of perfectly good electronics. The United States has a serious problem with conspicuous consumption and marketing has instilled a hunger in us that is only satisfied by consuming. There could potentially be economic issues if e-waste was regulated like this in the United States. It could potentially kill much of the electronic sales and the economy could take a hit.

In an ideal world, people would simply want to recycle their electronics for simply moral and ethical reasons. But we do not live in an ideal world and must take a realistic view of the world in solving problems. Many people simply do not care about recycling. We may never get them to care, but we can require them to recycle. There are so many issues in the world that it’s quite overwhelming and confusing to the individual. Regulating e-waste may be part of the answer and it may not be. But then again, it will be much simpler to regulate electronic waste than it will be to motivate society.

What do you think? Could regulation be a good thing or not? What are some ways you think we could motivate people to recycle without forcing them to?