Thursday, July 12, 2012
E-Waste: "Where Do You Take This Stuff?"
Illinois' original e-waste bill four years ago set recycling "goals" for manufacturers to reach with penalties for failure to comply but no system to achieve them. It, likewise, effectively banned consumers from dumping their e-waste with the rest of the garbage but provided no alternative means of disposal.
The basic question is, "Where are you supposed to take this stuff?" as one acquaintance with a dead TV asked FEN in random conversation. The Illinois EPA on a hard-to-find page theoretically lists all the approved e-waste collection sites in Illinois. There are only 11 in McHenry County. Algonquin Township, currently collecting e-waste at a 50-ton per year rate, isn't among them. Road Commissioner Bob Miller said he instituted the program because it fits with the Township's other recycling efforts but also to save some money. "I'd rather have my guys collect the stuff here than have them pick it up off the road."
Grafton Road Commissioner Jack Freund said he can't do something similar, though. "I've got nowhere to put it," he said. Freund said residents aren't resorting to midnight runs yet to dump dead electronics in country ditches. "We've only found one so far," he said. "I'm kind of surprised." The Township's Supervisor-organized special e-waste collection in April may have helped, collecting several tons of electronic junk. Another's scheduled later this year.
The Village of Algonquin, likewise, had a big e-waste collection event this Spring and plans to collect more during a village clean-up event this Fall.
Another safety valve in the Huntley area is the village's new Goodwill Store. Rumors to the contrary, Store Manager Jeff Aquino said Goodwill still accepts e-waste donations and it doesn't matter if the stuff runs or not. "If the equipment still works we'll resell it," he said. "If it doesn't, then we send it to the recyclers."
The Best Buy chain of retailers will also accept Illinois e-waste, working equipment or junk. A customer service rep named Pat at the company's Algonquin store said truckloads of the stuff aren't acceptable but, otherwise, "we have customers every day bringing us (waste) electronic items."
E-waste collectors in Illinois are forbidden to charge consumers a fee unless it's for special service, like a curbside pickup. That means the cost of operation has to come out of the waste itself. Marshall Lowe at Lowe Enterprises, Cary, said there isn't much profit in it, though. "I only get about two cents a pound from the recyclers," he said.
Lowe pointed to another problem for consumers: Acceptable material varies from location to location. In his case, for instance, "My recyclers won't take microwaves."
"I honestly don't know," said Lowe.
Still some people are eyeing the possibility of opening commercial e-waste recycling centers. Algonquin Community Development Director Russ Farnum said he's fielded several inquiries. "They're nibbling around," he said. "We just haven't had a bite yet."
State Senator Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) was the original sponsor of Illinois's e-waste bill in 2008. She was also the sponsor of a group of revisions in 2010 that cranked back the original recycling "goals" and postponed IEPA comment about e-waste for three more years. FEN tried to contact her repeatedly to ask how she thinks things are working out. So far there's been no response.
In the pic: These old computer monitors were in a ditch on a frontage road south of Huntley three weeks ago.