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Recycling TVs no easy task in Pennsylvania

| Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, 10:18 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Ryan Wallace, 41, works at Evolution E-Cycling in Pittsburgh's South Side on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. The business offers free electronics recycling but charges a fee to recycle cathode-ray and rear-projection TVs.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
Some of the many electronics at Evolution E-Cycling in Pittsburgh's South Side on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
Justin Merriman | Tribune Review
A TV sits at Evolution E-Cycling in Pittsburgh's South Side on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. The business offers free electronics recycling, but it charges a fee to recycle cathode-ray and rear-projection TVs.

Steve Shearson didn't realize how much effort a giveaway would require.

For three weeks, the Rostraver resident tried unsuccessfully to recycle a Sony 43-inch, rear-projection TV that he and his wife recently replaced with a flat-screen model.

It didn't matter that the old TV cost a few thousand dollars when it was purchased as a birthday gift for Shearson 13 years ago, he said.

“Our garbage service won't take it. Goodwill won't take it. Best Buy won't take it. Even the old man who drives around picking up stuff won't take it,” Shearson, 53, said before he finally was able to give away the TV last week via Craigslist.

Pennsylvanians are finding it harder to recycle televisions, especially for free, because recyclers reject them and other electronics. Recyclers say they can't afford to take the products because of the state's Covered Device Recycling Act, which took effect in 2013, that bans disposal of some electronics in landfills.

Televisions are more expensive to recycle because only a few companies worldwide take the glass from lead-based cathode-ray tubes in old models and computer monitors, recyclers said.

“I think the state ... created a situation where you're not allowed to put (covered electronics) in your garbage and there really isn't a good source to be able to take the recyclables to,” said Michael Silvestri, township manager in Peters.

One of the region's largest recyclers of electronics, eLoop in Plum, recently told 20 towns in eight counties, including Peters and South Fayette, that it no longer could pick up residents' electronics for free recycling, company president Ned Eldridge said. In addition, it has stopped accepting TVs but will accept drop-offs of other devices at its Plum location.

Options for recycling elsewhere are shrinking:

• Best Buy, which began offering free electronics recycling in 2009, stopped taking TVs and computer monitors in Pennsylvania this month because state law prohibits retailers from charging for the recycling unless they offer a rebate or a coupon.

• Construction Junction, a nonprofit in Pittsburgh's East End that sells used and surplus building materials, stopped accepting electronics in June because eLoop no longer could afford to pay it for the collection, said Michael Gable, executive director.

• Goodwill stopped taking televisions and CRT computer monitors in 2013 but accepts other covered electronics.

Evolution E-Cycling LLC in Pittsburgh's South Side accepts TVs for recycling but charges fees, ranging from $10 to $60, for CRT and rear-projection TVs, depending on the size. It accepts flat-screen TVs for free.

The Salvation Army will accept TVs for free at its donation sites.

With Best Buy ending its TV and computer monitor recycling in the state, the percentage of Pennsylvanians with access to TV recycling has declined from 63 percent to an estimated 25 percent, said Justin Stockdale, western regional director of the Pennsylvania Resources Council.

The law that bans disposal of laptops, computer monitors, TVs, tablets and other devices in landfills specifies that each electronics manufacturer must collect for recycling an amount of electronics whose weight is equal to what it sold in the state two years earlier.

Recyclers in the Covered Device Recycling Act program say the per-pound fees they receive from manufacturers to collect electronics on their behalf and provide free pickup for residents are flat. The prices they get from selling metals and other parts from the electronics on the commodities market have declined.

ELoop is dropping the free recycling pickups at some sites because it was not allocated a collection weight from a manufacturer, Eldridge said. The company cannot charge for recycling because it is participating in the state program.

Another issue for recyclers is the fact that old electronics are much heavier than products manufacturers sold two years ago, so the law's weight requirements are too low, experts said.

“There is plenty of excess material out there, so they can drive a hard bargain with the recyclers,” said state Rep. Chris Ross, who sponsored the 2010 state act.

The law has not led to the creation of a dependable, statewide infrastructure for local governments, collectors and recyclers to provide recycling services continually, according to a state Department of Environmental Protection report presented to the General Assembly in October.

As of August, 43 percent of calls to the statewide recycling hot line were related to callers' inability to find recycling sites for TVs, the report said.

Tenants of landlord Gregory Scott's five-unit apartment building in Hazelwood sometimes leave TVs when they move out, said Scott, 75.

Because taking the TVs to Best Buy is no longer is an option, he recently paid $30 to recycle a TV at Evolution E-Cycling, a cost he said he doesn't charge to the tenant's security deposit.

“You pay a lot of taxes. But can't (the city) have at least one warehouse where they have everyone drop it off?” he said.

Ross plans to introduce state legislation soon to address the issue. Solutions could include temporarily requiring manufacturers to increase the weights they are responsible for this year, he said.

Of Allegheny County's 130 municipalities, 35 offer electronics recycling through their waste haulers.

It would cost South Fayette $30,000 more annually to have its trash hauler, Waste Management, collect residents' electronics. But the township can't afford that, township spokeswoman Andrea Iglar said. South Fayette residents who put covered electronics at the curb could be subject to a fine of up to $1,000, Iglar said. Illegally dumping elsewhere in the township could result in a fine of $25 to $1,000.

In Peters, the Public Works Department picked up a computer that someone dumped illegally along Sugar Camp Road recently, said Silvestri. He said the township is taking bids from recyclers that might replace eLoop. Prices are ranging from $30 to $60 a pound, he said.

The Pennsylvania Resources Council annually runs six one-day collection events for hard-to-recycle items in three counties. Through annual partnerships and sponsorships from companies and government agencies, including about $25,000 from Allegheny County, the council had been accepting covered electronics for free.

Because eLoop no longer will provide free TV recycling for the events, the council might charge to collect TVs for recycling this year or not collect TVs at all if it can't find a replacement for eLoop, Stockdale said.

Tory N. Parrish is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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