Posted: 9:00 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, 2012

Recycling electronics gaining in popularity

By Kyle Nagel

Staff Writer

The amount of discarded or unused electronics recycled nationally increased 38 percent between 2006 and 2010, but experts would like to see even more and warn of environmental concerns.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which tracks “e-waste” statistics, reported that 649,000 tons of electronics were recycled in 2010. That was just 27 percent of the 2.4 million tons of electronics that were at “end of life.”

Business, waste and environmental officials encourage reusing or recycling electronics after making new purchases or retiring a device. Options run from turning items in to waste disposal agencies or donating them to charities. In some cases, they are resold.

Parts from the devices can be removed for reuse or sale, and the products’ casings can also be sold for scrap. Because of the potential profit, private companies have joined a group of outlets that collect unwanted electronics.

“E-waste is of particular interest because electronic products contain hazardous materials and have (short lifespans),” Linda Oros, spokesperson for the Ohio EPA, wrote in an email. “So as electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, etc. become more and more a part of our lives, generation of e-waste has grown.”

The amount of electronic products ready for “end-of-life” management grew 14 percent between 2006 and 2010, to 2.4 million tons. With that volume of potential recyclables, the industry could create more jobs if the demand for recycling increased.

That has happened at Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, which has a 17-person electronics recycling unit that expects to collect about 2.5 million pounds of e-waste this year. Other private companies have opened with multiple employees.

Some states have passed laws governing e-waste, in some cases creating clear rules of responsibility and standards about whether electronics can be discarded to landfills. Most people must act by choice, which has officials encouraging more awareness of recycling options.

“As you hold on to old devices, just keep them in the basement, they can lose value over time,” said Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling. “There will be less opportunity to use those devices and put them back on the retail market. That can be a negative value instead of a positive.”

Importance of recycling

The EPA tracks recycling rates of products including computers, keyboards, mice, TVs and mobile devices. Among those, keyboards and mice are recycled at the lowest rate (10 percent).

More recycling options have been created in recent years as organizations from governments to charities have boosted e-waste programs. In Clark County, for instance, a recycling center was opened in 2007, and it hosts weekly electronics drop-off days each Thursday. In 2010, the county collected 38 tons of e-waste. Last year, it was 34.65 tons.

“It’s just been an explosion (of interest),” said Steve Schlather, program coordinator for the Clark County Waste Management District. “It has become a major factor in this industry.”

Some cite privacy concerns for not turning in old computers, although computers had the highest rate of recycling among electronics in 2010, at 40 percent. Officials stress recycling’s benefits to the environment, particularly for electronic devices that might contain substances that are potentially harmful to the land, such as mercury.

Much of the e-waste is destroyed, often ground up into a fine powder after potentially hazardous materials are removed. Other parts are resold or even used to help repair other devices, which is why officials underline the usability of old devices that might seem obsolete.

“Metals in electronics can be used many times over,” Linnell said. “It’s a waste of resources to let it sit in a landfill.”

Numerous options

Recognizing a growing demand for e-waste recycling, Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley created a separate program for electronics about two years ago. Last year the organization that covers 23 counties collected 1.7 million pounds of e-waste.

Kim Bramlage, a spokesperson for the organization, said a device that won’t even turn on is still useful for recycling.

“We saw the need,” Bramlage said. “It’s good for (the community), and it’s good for us.”

The need is displayed in the store rooms of any electronics recycling facility. That includes stacks of laptops and barrels of electronic guts at Dayton Computer Recycling in downtown Dayton. The co-owners, cousins Phillip and Ian Lowe, opened the location about two years ago after working elsewhere in the recycling industry.

The Lowes accept electronics for free (some charge, depending on the size or type of drop-off), take them apart and reuse or resell what they can.

“I’ve never met someone who really wanted a computer in a landfill,” Phillip Lowe said. “They just might not know exactly what to do with it.”

Officials hope people become more aware. Some are encouraging lawmakers to consider legislation creating standards and rules for e-waste. Some states require producers to be more involved in disposal and recycling. Some ban throwing devices in the trash. Ohio has no laws regarding e-waste.

“(In many states) it’s legal for a household … to put old stuff in the trash and let it go straight to the landfill,” Linnell said. “That can be dangerous.”


The latest news videos