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Unplugged & unwanted: municipal recycling coordinators attempt to collect obsolete electronic items from individual households.

Electronics recycling at the community level is still a relatively new endeavor in many places. Public administrators at the county, district, municipal and other levels face particular challenges when dealing with individual residents as opposed to large companies or institutions.

Those who have attempted the process say a key at the outset is to let residents know that services are available and to communicate the importance of recycling their TVs or computers. The next step is to focus on ways to do it efficiently in terms of costs and volumes collected.

Many view the electronics recycling programs that communities administer as an evolution based on experience, demand and funding. The collection fee charged to residents continues to be a factor inhibiting greater participation. In the early stages, single-day events held annually can be cost-effective ways of removing the initial stream of electronic scrap from the community.

ONE-DAY EVENTS. Communities have learned logistics lessons from one-day events. Kevin Miller, waste reduction/ recycling coordinator for the City of Napa, Calif., says that his town has been administering two-day annual events since 2001. "After the first year, we gave up packaging at the event except for TVs," he says. "Everything had to be sorted again because we could not keep up with it otherwise. Basically, we have done less packaging at the event and more simple sorting and bulk collecting."

Lauren Roman, vice president of marketing for United Recycling Industries, West Chicago, Ill., says, "To make recycling more financially feasible, municipalities should restrict what they collect and go for items with the most environmental impact. If you have a limited budget, you would go for TVs and monitors, which conrail1 the greatest amount of lead. If you have a larger budget, then you can include computers, computer peripherals, TV peripherals, etc.," she says.

Residents can be sensitive to paying recycling fees. Starting in 2002, the Pemi-Baker District in New Hampshire held two one-day collections on back-to-back Saturdays. Dan Woods, district coordinator, says a fee was assessed for each item brought to the collection.

"Part of our problem is that the fees that our recycling contractor charges to recycle the various items are higher than what the individual members are charging to residents to throw this material into the trash compactor," Woods says. "Only three of our 19 communities actually charge the same price for disposal as our vendor charges for recycling."

Woods believes the district views these one-day-collections as a short-term solution. He says, "What these one-day events ,are doing is allowing us to get the first wave of material out of the waste stream and recycled properly, while educating the public and making them aware to the dangers of landfilling and incinerating these materials."

PERMANENT DROP-OFF SITES. Permanent drop-off locations have some advantages to one-day collection events.

Roman suggests doing electronics drop-offs in conjunction with other hazardous wastes, such as paint, photographic chemicals or batteries. She also suggests partnering with organizations such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

Snohomish County, Wash., which operates three large transfer stations, pays a recycler per pound for monitors or TVs with cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and other electronics.

Sego Jackson, principal planner, Snohomish County Solid Waste Management Division, says part of the county's logistics strategy is to maintain a trucking container on site. "This way we are not spending a lot o n floor space. As each pallet or Gaylord is filled, it is moved to a truck sitting there. An average of two trucks go out per week," says Jackson.

For the past three yeas, Kane County, Ill., has held three one-day events per year. Gary Mielke, recycling coordinator there, says that the county will have a drop-off site in operation by early summer. "By having a year-round facility, we will eliminate peaks and have a more regular flow of material," he says.

CURBSIDE PICK UP. Curbside pick up is regarded as the most convenient for residents, but the most expensive to administer.

Another barrier to curbside pick up is space within curbside bins. "We have evolved into a three-cart system with other recycling [available]," says Jackson. "We used to do a bulky goods spring dean-up, but it became unwieldy." Also, leaving electronics out in the elements decreases the chances for reuse.

Curbside electronic scrap collection does exist in many communities. Kevin McCarthy, director of electronics recycling at Recycle America Alliance in San Leandro, Calif., says, "Our parent company Waste" Management Inc. is delivering e-waste collection services in dozens of communities. It is more common in states with landfill bans," he notes.

With a number of options available, communities are focusing on the most effective ways for residents to recycle obsolete computer equipment and entertainment appliances. All of the options require careful planning in order to minimize the associated costs.


In New England, states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut already have landfill bans for TVs and computer monitors with cathode ray tubes (CRTs).

Dan Woods of the Petal-Baker Solid Waste District in New Hampshire says that once the landfill bans come along, towns will have no choice but to accept electronic scrap and charge fees.

Adds Kevin McCarthy of the Recycle America Alliance division of Waste Management Inc., Houston, "There is a resurgence this year of landfill ban legislation, often coupled with bills requiring product take-back and/or placing fees on products. We believe landfill bar is alone will not fare well. The real issue is funding for programs. For example, with the program in California, we had a landfill ban but not a funding solution. Senate Bill 20, which passed last September, is the first e-waste bill with funding in the country."

The author is freelance contributor living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at
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Title Annotation:Municipal Recycling Supplement
Comment:Unplugged & unwanted: municipal recycling coordinators attempt to collect obsolete electronic items from individual households.(Municipal Recycling Supplement)
Author:Coia, Anthony
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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