February 19, 2010

Recycling at Best Buy: Crossed Wires

I was delighted the other day to see a TV commercial from Best Buy announcing that the store now recycles electronics for free. I have a number of pieces of equipment I would like to get rid of responsibly, and the best deal I had known about previously was offered by Office Depot. That store sells boxes of various sizes (for $5, $10, or $15) that one can fill up with electronic devices that will be recycled when returned to the store.

Before I made a special trip to Best Buy, I thought it prudent to check out the URL I had copied down from the commercial, http://bestbuy.com/recycle. This was a wise move; when I consulted it, I learned that Best Buy accepts only two items per household per day:
What We Take
  • Two items per household per day.
  • Nearly everything electronic, including TVs, computers, DVD players, monitors, or cell phones.
  • We charge $10 for TVs under 32", CRTs, monitors and laptops. But you receive a $10 Best Buy gift card.
  • Desktop or laptop computers with the hard drive removed. See this Geek Squad video for Do-it-Yourself instructions, or we will remove it for $19.99.

What We Don’t Take
  • Internal & External computer hard drives.
  • Console TVs, or TVs and monitors larger than 32". Use our haul-away or pickup programs for these items.
  • Electronics containing Freon, like mini refrigerators or air conditioners. Please contact your local waste disposal department.
  • Appliances. Use our haul-away or pickup programs for refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, washers and dryers, ranges and microwaves.
Armed with Best Buy’s description of its recycling program, I packed up a dead router and an unused cordless telephone and headed off to the Best Buy store in nearby Bethel Park. After stops at Penzoil and Office Depot, I took my shopping bag containing the devices to be recycled into the Best Buy store. I explained my mission to the person who met me at the door, and he put a sticker on my bag and directed me to the customer service counter.

I walked up the the counter, placed my bag on top of it, and told the clerk what was in it. That’s when things started to go wrong. Routers and cordless phones, I was told, were not accepted. “We only accept things with screens,” she said. I protested that this is not what the Best Buy Web site said. The clerk then carefully examined a letter-size card that explained what was and was not accepted—I did not insist on reading the instructions on the card—after which she consulted a nearby Geek Squad employee. No, Best Buy would not recycle my router and telephone.

When I returned home with my shopping bag of rejected recyclables, I rechecked the Best Buy Web site, then called the store. I asked if routers and cordless phones were accepted for recycling. I was told that they were. “Well,” I said, “you seem to have a training problem, since I was just in the store and was told otherwise.”

In retrospect, Best Buy may have more than a training problem. The clerk in the store was clearly following written instructions, and she consulted with another employee when I suggested that her understanding was faulty. It seems likely either that the instructions were unclear and the clerk did not understand them, or that the instructions were produced locally and did not reflect the corporate policy clearly enunciated on the Web. Whatever the reality, the local Best Buy store managed to turn an opportunity to build customer loyalty into an opportunity to inconvenience and infuriate an otherwise loyal customer. Maybe I’ll try to recycle my router and telephone at Best Buy next week.

Maybe I’ll just buy a box from Office Depot.


  1. Goodwill would surely have taken the telephone. The router was non-functional, so, even if Goodwill would have taken it, Goodwill couldn’t have done anything with it.


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