Proper disposal of electronic waste requires vigilance on part of consumers
Ahh, the sounds of Christmas in the electronics aisle.
Many of us will get gifts of electronics for the holidays. After all, how long do people expect us to keep that Palm Pilot or laptop from 2004?
But have we considered how we’ll dispose of last year’s laptop?
Wisconsin requires businesses to recycle their discarded electronics—or e-waste—or prove those items don’t contain hazardous waste. And the state bans some electronics from landfills, particularly refrigerators, freezers and other appliances containing the chemical Freon.
However, no rules apply to household disposal of electronics. So residents still are free to toss their old TVs into the landfill, despite the fear that the metals they contain could poison soil and groundwater.
“We try to encourage residents not to” landfill their e-waste, said Mandy Bonneville, Janesville assistant operations director. “There are recyclers out there.”
But be warned: Not all recyclers are created equal.
CRT Processing, 2535 Beloit Ave., has recycled household and commercial electronics since 2004. The Janesville company expects to process 30 million pounds of electronics this year, said Vice President Jim Cornwell.
What bothers Cornwell is the number of recyclers who accept e-waste and then ship it overseas instead of recycling it.
While no exact figures exist, environmental activists estimate that 50 percent to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the United States each year ends up overseas.
Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract recyclable materials, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.
“It gives the industry a bad name,” Cornwell said of the recyclers who ship overseas. “We’re trying to do things by the book. Some companies aren’t. They’re basically trying to get rich while we’re trying to do the right thing.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is 10 times cheaper to export e-waste than to dispose of it at home.
The problem could get worse. Most of the 2 million tons of old electronics discarded annually by Americans goes to U.S. landfills, according to EPA data cited by The Associated Press. But more states are banning such waste from landfills, which could fuel more waste exports.
The bottom line: Know your recycler, and ask questions about what happens to your e-waste.
CRT Processing charges a collection fee ranging from $1 for a phone to $20 for a 28-inch TV. Some items, such as cell phones and pagers, are accepted free.
Starting in September, the company began recycling Sony products for free through an agreement between Sony and Waste Management Recycle America. Residents can drop off Sony computer equipment, fax machines, photocopiers, printers, TVs, VCRs, stereos and phones at Waste Management, 340 Black Bridge Road, and they’ll eventually make their way to CRT.
Other companies, such as Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, also offer recycling information on their Web sites.
Once in CRT’s door, electronics equipment is broken down into its different parts: glass, plastic, steel and other metals. Glass—especially the toxin-laced glass in TV picture tubes—is cleaned using a special process that removes graphite, iron oxide and aluminum oxide coatings.
“We’re one of few companies in the country to take old picture tubes and convert them into usable commodities,” Cornwell said.
He said CRT recycles up to 98 percent of everything it receives. If customers want their products re-used instead, the company will repair and remarket them.
CRT has e-waste recycling contracts in other states, too, including California, Texas, Florida and Minnesota, which has banned electronics from landfills.
The EPA currently is working with environmental groups, recyclers and electronics manufacturers to develop a system to certify companies that recycle electronics responsibly.
Cornwell wants to go further.
He said existing technology could create a device that would track electronic items to see where they go to die.
So here’s a tip for all you electronics shoppers out there:
A new laptop might make one person happy, but an old laptop—recycled properly—someday will make us all happy.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
For more information and e-waste disposal tips, visit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Web site at dnr.wi.gov/org/aw/wm/ewaste/index.html.
Recycling your e-waste
Electronic items can be dropped off for recycling from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays at CRT Processing, 2535 Beloit Ave., Janesville. Some customers choose to remove their computer hard drives beforehand. However, CRT is able to wipe or shred hard drives in a separate room. Private information is destroyed according to U.S. Department of Defense standards.
Items can be dropped off with cords, mice and other accessories, and CRT staff can help unload items if needed.
Here are the fees CRT charges for recycling electronics:
Free: Pagers, printer cartridges.
$1: Cell phones.
$10: laptops, printers, scanners, stereos, computer monitors with keyboards, radios, fax machines and most desktop electronics.
$15: 27-inch or smaller TVs, microwaves.
$20: 28-inch or larger TVs.
For prices on larger items such as photocopiers, refrigerators and freezers, call CRT at (608) 754-3400.