Rising Tide of E-Waste Poses Test

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), January 8, 2012 | Go to article overview

Rising Tide of E-Waste Poses Test


Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

When the old televisions started showing up at Goodwill in huge numbers last August, they took Jim Nelson by surprise.

Goodwill Industries of Lane and South Coast Counties is one of the state's electronic-waste collectors, and Nelson, Goodwill's business manager, is used to donation ebbs and flows. But this was over the top.

"We were running four trailer loads a week out of here," about double the normal rate, he said. "I have no idea why."

Goodwill is now bracing for a post-holiday run as people drop off old electronics that have been replaced by shiny, new gifts.

In 2011, the nonprofit agency best known for its thrift stores recycled 1 million pounds of televisions and 615,000 pounds of computers, Nelson said.

The numbers at Next Step Recycling - a local nonprofit that emphasizes electronics reuse - were similarly striking. Next Step Executive Director Lorraine Kerwood said the agency recycled 2 million pounds of TVs, computers and monitors under its recycling contracts. It refurbished for reuse much more: 50 tons of electronics, everything from lap tops and phones to paper shredders.

Since 2009, when the state's electronic waste laws went into effect, millions of pounds of these items have been kept out of landfills. And Oregon continues to up the ante, setting its most ambitious goal yet in 2012: 27 million pounds - or 7.1 pounds per person - of electronics to be recycled in 2012, 3 million pounds more than last year.

States decide regulations

Recycling electronics reduces the amount of trash going into local landfills, decreasing the toxics like lead, cadmium and mercury that can leach out of landfills into waterways. Recycling also recovers valuable materials such as plastics and metals that can be used again.

In the past decade, a patchwork of e-waste laws were put into place as states began regulating recycling of electronics - the fastest growing category of trash in the country. In 2009, the most recent statistics available, Americans discarded 2.7 million tons of electronics.

California was the first state to pass laws on recycling electronics - in 2003 - after the electronics industry and the federal government failed to agree on national rules. Today, 25 states

regulate electronics recycling.

But each state has approached e-cycling differently. Some have made it illegal to throw computers and televisions in the garbage. Some require electronics manufacturers to pay for recycling while others charge consumers a recycling fee when they buy new equipment. Some include almost every device, while others regulate just a few of the bigger items.

Oregon law earns praise

A recent analysis of e-waste laws by a nonprofit environmental group gives Oregon high marks for regulations that have led to one of the highest per capita recycling rates in the nation. Figures for 2011 aren't available yet, but in 2010 Oregon recycled 6.31 pounds of e-waste per person. Only Minnesota had a slightly higher rate, 6.37 pounds per person, according to a report by the Electronics Take Back Coalition.

What did Oregon get right?

According to the coalition, the state made it convenient for consumers, requiring collection sites to be set up in every county and in every city with a population of 10,000 or more.

Making it illegal to throw away computers, monitors and televisions also had an impact, according to the coalition.

And state regulators required manufacturers to recycle a specific amount based on how much electronics they sell in Oregon.

In addition to paying an annual fee to the state to cover administrative costs, manufacturers must set up collection sites for e-waste and pay the collectors for the material they bring in. The rate ranges from 3 to 7 cents a pound.

Oregon only regulates computers, monitors and televisions - it will add printers, keyboards and mice to the list in 2015. …

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