Best Buy Recycling Program: Getting the Green Reputation

Best Buy

Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) wants your electronic junk. The retailer's recycling program seems expensive to run, until you look at the benefits: a green reputation and a way to get customers into stores.

(FORTUNE.com) At a Best Buy store in Roseville, Minn., the traffic in electronics travels a two-way street. Out the door go flat-screen TVs, netbooks, and iPhones. In comes junk -- and plenty of it: TVs that can't decode digital signals, outmoded desktop computers, even the occasional eight-track tape player or ham radio.

Since March, when Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) began offering free recycling of gadgets large and small, more than 25 million pounds of ISTB -- that's company lingo for in-store take-back -- has made its way to the company's 1,044 U.S. stores.

About 60 items a day arrive in Roseville, where Christine Cartwright, a store manager who rolled out the take-back program there, says she never expected to get into the recycling business when she joined the retailer. Dealing with all the unwanted stuff adds work, but it also brings an element of surprise to the job. "You never know what people will bring in," Cartwright says. "Some of these televisions ought to be in a museum."

So how, exactly, did Best Buy become America's biggest collector of electronic garbage? Where does it all end up? And can a big-box retailer turn all that trash into cash?

We'll tell you, but first a word about how Best Buy came to embrace corporate responsibility and recycling. Some businesses take an expansive view of their social responsibilities because their founders set out to build a different kind of company.

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