Virtual world creates byproduct of tangible trashIn a world where electronic gadgets become obsolete sometimes mere months after purchase, the resulting waste accumulates. According to various sources, e-waste is a big problem that isn’t going away.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
In a world where electronic gadgets become obsolete sometimes mere months after purchase, the resulting waste accumulates.
Consumers raced into the information age with a whole new generation of high-tech electronics: Computers, cell phones, TVs, printers, fax machines and many gadgets with a video display screen. As the latest, greatest tech toys roll out, people toss the “outdated” items into the trash, a landfill or even an illegal place.
According to various sources, e-waste is a big problem that isn’t going away.
Electronics contain dangerous chemicals — often more than one: Lead, mercury, cadmium, toxic plastics, harmful brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and the human carcinogen beryllium.
Concern continues growing about what the discarded products leak into the air, ground and water.
Ten states have passed laws that essentially make electronics manufacturers responsible for paying to recycle their old products. Most laws forbid dumping electronics into a landfill.
Twelve state legislatures have introduced bills to do the same, including Wisconsin. Senate Bill 397 remains in committee but should come up for a vote in the not-too-distant future.
River Falls holds an annual Spring Clean Up during which people can bring any item to the Waste Management transfer station at 250 Summit St., according to Sue Wang, the Public Works and Engineering administrative assistant.
Residents pay a small fee for each piece of e-waste they bring. Wang said the city uses the same e-waste prices and regulations that Pierce County uses.
Pierce County Solid Waste Administrator Steve Melstrom said the department just mailed its annual recycling guide last week. It should be arriving in mailboxes this week.
It highlights Pierce County’s two annual collection events.
People can also bring their e-waste anytime from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, as well as 8 a.m.-noon the first and third Saturdays.
Pierce County Clean Sweep events for 2008 are 8 a.m. to noon April 19 and Sept. 20.
People pay a small fee for electronic items they bring to the center at 707 N. Maple/Hwy. 65N in Ellsworth.
There is no charge for recycling circuit boards or cell phones.
“We’ve had the same fees since we opened here in 1996,” said Melstrom. “I think that’s important because if fees are too much, people won’t do it.”
When asked if he’s seen evidence of dumping of such items around the county, he says absolutely. It’s usually on remote roads, and the towns become liable for the mess.
“The townships are responsible for covering the costs,” Melstrom said about dumped items, adding, “Thank God they pick them up.”
A graph shows Pierce County electronics recycling during the last decade. When the program started, the center took in about 15 ‘units’ or pieces of electronic equipment.
For 2007, that number is up to nearly 2,500 units.
Pierce County ships items to one of two domestic facilities that disassemble and recycle them.
Pierce County Materials Recovery Facility Supervisor David Murphy said he visited the Redgranite operation, a prison recycling program, characterizing it as “immaculately clean.”
He said, “They break it down into every single component.”
Murphy anticipates a glut of e-waste this year for two reasons: One, the tax checks people will receive and two, the analog signal becomes obsolete soon.
He said most people will probably opt for a new TV rather than a converter.
St. Croix County
St. Croix County Recycling Specialist Jennifer Havens said the county doesn’t have a permanent facility but does various collections throughout the year. She said the county partners with Waste Management’s Recycling America to do the collection and recycling.
She said last year, 876 participants brought in a collective 84,459 pounds of electronics. Havens said TVs and computer monitors each comprise about 1/4 of those pounds.
She agrees that the tax checks and shifting TV signal will prompt a lot of e-waste.
“We’re kind of watching those things on the horizon because they will impact the collection events,” she said.
St. Croix County holds the first electronics collection of the year from 9 a.m. to noon June 9 at the County Government Center on Carmichael Road and the second event 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 8 at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College on South Knowles Avenue in New Richmond.
Prices to recycle electronics at the event:
Laptops, processing units, keyboards, circuit boards and cell phones are accepted for no charge.
Havens said Waste Management recycles 94%-96% of the materials it hauls away. She said the least recyclable item is the compressed wood in the old console-style TVs.
She said people also dump electronics in St. Croix County, leaving the town responsible. Havens said she knows of a business in Hudson, Electronic Equipment Recycling, that also recycles electronics.
Legislature considers action
Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 397 takes a major step toward addressing the problem of e-waste.
Pierce County’s recycling guide says a half-gram of mercury, the average amount in a fever thermometer and a tiny amount compared to what’s in some electronics, is enough to contaminate a 10-acre lake.
Melstrom said about the potential law: “It would definitely get us moving in the right direction.”
Havens said about SB 397: “Our intention is to support something like this…I’m excited to see what happens with it. There are just a lot of positive things…”
Murphy and Havens acknowledge that recycling, like any other business, has its reputable dealers and not-so-reputable ones. A dive into the topic splashes up news about truck/ship/plane loads of e-waste going to undeveloped countries, where it’s not properly disassembled or recycled and poses a serious hazard.
Melstrom and Havens said Pierce and St. Croix counties approve what happens to their e-waste down the line.
Havens said she likes the part of SB 397 that prohibits electronics from going to landfills. She encourages people to write their representatives about the potential law.
Learn more about SB 397 at the state’s Web site: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/2007/data/SB-397.pdf.
Get more details about Pierce County’s recycling services at www.co.pierce.wi.us or 273-3092. Consumers can e-mail the solid-waste facility at email@example.com.
Go to www.co.saint-croix.wi.us for more information about recycling in St. Croix County or call 386-4675. Consumers can e-mail Havens at firstname.lastname@example.org.