Recycling Electronic Waste a Worthy Effort; Northeast Florida Tries to Make It Easier to Dispose Responsibly

By Conner, Deirdre | The Florida Times Union, January 12, 2008 | Go to article overview

Recycling Electronic Waste a Worthy Effort; Northeast Florida Tries to Make It Easier to Dispose Responsibly


Conner, Deirdre, The Florida Times Union


Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

The television broke, the cell phone died, and the fax machine up and quit.

What to do?

There's no easy answer for those seeking to get rid of modern gadgets that are ready to be, as manufacturers like to say, "retired."

Tossing them in with pizza crusts and paper plates doesn't seem right, and experts say they should not go into the garbage, even though it's the most common practice, and legal here in Florida (not so in some states). For many other devices, the final resting place is a spot collecting dust in the garage.

But there is an alternative; the popularity of recycling electronic waste, or e-waste, is growing as more people learn about it. The process breaks electronic equipment down into glass, metals and plastics to be resold.

Local availability for recycling electronics varies from one county to the next. St. Johns and Duval counties offer the most opportunities for e-recycling and hazardous waste disposal through drop-off centers and neighborhood collection events. Options in other counties, such as Nassau and Clay, are extremely limited.

The vast majority end up in landfills here, and it's a rising environmental threat. Electronic waste can leach toxic metals into the soil and groundwater, experts say, and it's better to re-use metals instead of mining for new ones. That's why Northeast Florida counties are working to increase opportunities in recent years to recycle electronics, classified typically as anything with a plug, from computers to toasters.

Advanced Disposal, a contracted waste hauler in many Northeast Florida counties, is sponsoring its first e-waste event in the region today in northern St. Johns County. The event was timed to come after the holidays, when "half the things on the list were electronic equipment," said Mary O'Brien, a spokeswoman for Advanced Disposal.

A few months ago, Putnam County added an electronic waste recycling box at its landfill after being contacted by a company that picks up the items, Sanitation Director Stephen Naldine said. Duval County has expanded its remote collection events to include e-waste.

The regulations about what can be recycled in each county - and finding out where and when to do so - can be confusing.

Complicating matters further are serious concerns about recycling companies that simply export technological refuse to third-world countries. Once there, components sometimes aren't recycled at all, and even when they are, improper disposal can wreak havoc on the environment and cause health problems. Recent reports, including one in this month's National Geographic magazine, paint a bleak picture of the harm caused by U.S. e-waste exported to Africa and Asia.

That led Advanced Disposal to seek out a Florida company, Creative Recycling Systems, which guarantees that it will disassemble the electronics safely in the U.S., breaking the waste down into reusable materials. St. Johns County, which does its own e-waste recycling throughout the year, looks for the same guarantees and also uses Creative Recycling, as does Duval County.

"We only deal with certified companies that give us an affidavit that says they do not ship to the third world, and that all the third-party companies are certified, too," said Chris Benjamin, environmental coordinator for St. Johns.

He said the county collects up to a quarter-million pounds in hazardous waste per year, which includes electronic waste. With more products on the market this year with the potential to become toxic trash, Benjamin and others are hoping the number collected will grow this year.

"This is the new wave of recycling," he said.

deirdre.conner@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4504

KEEPING TOXINS OUT OF THE LANDFILL

Electronic waste can legally be put into landfills, but recycling is urged due to environmental concerns. …

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