Getting a charge out of recycling your e-waste


Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.

We live in an electronics world: televisions, laptops, cell phones, computers, mp3 players, DVD and Blu-ray players, microwaves, just about anything with a plug or battery.

Facts

Items accepted

Alachua County
■ cell phones
■ computer desktop towers
■ computer monitors
■ peripherals (keyboards, mouses)
■ printers and scanners
■ game systems
■ laptops
■ microwave ovens
■ power tools
■ stereo components
■ tape recorders
■ telephones
■ televisions
■ CD/DVD players
■ Items can be dropped off at the county's recycling centers Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday or at the Leveda Brown Environmental Park on Waldo Road.
■ Asset Management oversees the reuse and recycling of most electronic waste for the University of Florida.
■ Arc of Alachua offers e-waste recycling; 334-4060 or www.arcalachua.org/ewaste.html.
■ www.yellowpages.com lists private companies accepting electronic waste in Gainesville and Ocala areas.

You even may be reading this right now on a computer monitor, smartphone or tablet.

Invariably, this stuff breaks down and needs to be replaced. But then, where does the broken-down stuff go?

Once, we just pitched it. Some of us still do. A United Nations Environmental Program estimated we throw away 20 to 50 million tons globally every year, according to Earth911.com. But it's not a good idea; the U.N. study, "Recycling — From E-Waste to Resources," in 2009 added: "modern electronics can contain up to 60 different elements; many are valuable, some are hazardous and some are both."

So, we're tossing stuff that can harm us AND put money into our pockets.

Is it any wonder, then, that the idea — or is it the hope — nowadays is that we recycle our unwanted electronics as we would aluminum cans, plastic bottles and newspapers?

"A lot of these items can have hazardous materials in them, and we don't want them in anybody's landfill," said Sally Palmi, director of waste management for Alachua County. "Besides, e-waste has value, and why would we throw away anything when it can help offset our costs?"

In fact, the county reduces its annual ecycling bill to the tune of more than $20,000 by "demanufacturing" — disassembling into parts — all the old PCs that come into the Leveda Brown Environmental Park hazardous waste collection center, said Kurt Seaburg, hazardous waste coordinator.

That's 20 grand that taxpayers don't have to pony up each year.

Alachua pioneered electronics recycling, Seaburg added. The first mass collection of e-waste in Florida was in Gainesville in early 1999. "We collected 30,000-plus pounds that weekend," he said. The Environmental Park opened later that year and has been ecycling ever since.

Palmi said electronics can be dropped off at any of the county's recycling centers on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. or at the Leveda Brown center weekdays 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 7 a.m. to noon.

Moreover, electronics recycling protects the land itself.

"It's an alternative that saves landfill space," said Mike Sims, Marion County's solid waste director. "Plus, electronics contain certain compounds that could contaminate the leachate." Leachate, he explained, is the water that filters through the landfill and is collected beneath it — as is the practice at Marion County's Baseline Landfill.

Before this water can be used, however, it needs to be treated to remove contaminants. "The fewer contaminants, the less treatment it needs, the less it costs," Sims said.

Marion County periodically holds an "amnesty day" to accept all electronics without charge; the next one is scheduled for May 11 at Recycle All Electronics on Southwest 17th Avenue near Target.

"Amnesty Days are great," said Morgan Cole, who with her husband, Rob, runs Recycle All Electronics. RAE discovered the ecycling niche more than 10 years ago, she said, and the company is on track to ship out 140,000 pounds of materials for reprocessing just this month.

Because it costs RAE and companies like it to prepare and process the electronics for shipment to recycling centers, there's often a charge to accept the no-longer-wanted gear, especially the clunky old cathode ray tube monitors.

"The CRT glass is in a class by itself," Morgan Cole said. "It has all kinds of hazardous materials in it. We pay to store it, we pay to ship it, we pay to recycle it. So we have to charge to accept CRTs." Except on Amnesty Days.

Other items — old computers, cellphones, stereo equipment — typically have resale value, even if in pieces parts. "We have vats of wire, glass, plastic, metal," she added.

A growing concern in e-waste is with the medical profession upgrading its computerized recordkeeping, she said. All of that data has to be wiped to meet patient-privacy concerns.

Nevertheless, ecycling can pay off for all of us.

The Environmental Protection Agency noted on its website that "recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 U.S. homes in a year." And "for every million cellphones we recycle, 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered."

Sprint touts its program to give cellphones a second life offering a credit for older phones traded in. The older phones can be refurbished to nearly new for sale, or demanufactured for their components. But it's still uphill; of the 1.6 billion phones made each year, only 10 percent are recycled, according to a Sprint video on the program.

And there's more than just money at stake. An electronics recycling service offered by Arc of Alachua helps provide jobs to more than 40 developmentally disabled men and women in the county.

"It provides work for them," said Todd Baker, director of Arc of Alachua.

Rick Allen can be reached at rick.allen@starbanner.com or 867-4154.

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