New law makes it easier to ditch used electronics
Now that the shiny new TVs and tablet computers are out of the boxes and in use, it's time to figure out what to do with the items they replaced.
What can't be given away or stored for later use can be recycled, and that task is getting easier and cheaper for Pennsylvania consumers now that the first phase of the state's Covered Device Recycling Act has taken effect.
Alan Boring said his aGreenSpan Computer Recycling Inc. in Sharpsburg used to charge $5 to recycle a computer. A TV or monitor with a cathode ray tube cost more, because recycling them is more complex.
But as of Jan. 1, there's been no charge. "This is going to be a tremendous benefit for the average citizen and small business person," Boring said. "Up to this point, anyone recycling things legitimately had to charge for it."
Pennsylvania's law, modeled after similar ones in 23 other states, requires manufacturers to plan and subsidize recycling programs with the goal of recycling, by weight, as much electronic waste, or e-waste, as they sell in new products within the state's borders.
Manufacturers as of Jan. 1 had to register the computers and certain peripheral devices, such as keyboards, they intend to sell with the state, along with TVs with screens bigger than 4 inches. They had to have a state-approved collection network set up.
Retailers now have to sell only registered items, and provide details about how to recycle obsolete items.
They can't charge a recycling fee, unless they pay an equal or greater rebate. Best Buy's recycling program accepts any TV up to 32 inches for $10, then gives the customer a $10 gift card, for example.
Still, the biggest change for consumers takes effect next year, when the law will make it illegal to dispose of certain "covered devices," such as TVs or computers with the rest of the household trash, in landfills.
Specifically, landfills and other waste disposal sites can't accept covered devices or components as of Jan. 23, 2013. "That allows a year for residents and retailers to get used to the idea that they should be disposing of these devices properly," said Amanda Witman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Resources, which is administering the program.
But the network of recycling sites is expanding, making it easier to recycle, experts in the industry point out.
Recycler eLoop LLC of Plum has 30 collection sites statewide, and expects to have two more in place by the end of this week. A year ago, it had eight dropoff points, mostly in Western Pennsylvania.
The company works with the Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Co., a consortium of more than 35 electronics manufacturers. Every pound of material that eLoop collects is reported to the manufacturers, which then get credit toward their share of recycling under the law's requirements, said Ned Eldridge, president of the company founded in 2008.
"Along with the law came a convenience standard that basically says anywhere there is a population of 10,000 people, there should be an opportunity to recycle" electronic items, Eldridge said.
Recyclers such as aGreenSpan and eLoop make money by processing old devices for large companies that already are prohibited from putting their discards into landfills.
"We wouldn't have gone out to create this network (of recycling sites) if we didn't have the relationship" with manufacturers, Eldridge said. "They subsidize the program. We wouldn't be able to afford to recycle consumer goods without the subsidy."
Eldridge said eLoop hasn't charged consumers to recycle items for the past year, because of the arrangement it has with manufacturers. The business disassembled, shredded and otherwise handled 800,000 pounds of material in 2010, and 2 million pounds in 2011.
"We expect to process over 6 million pounds this year," Eldridge said. There are 12 employees now, but there could be 50 by year's end as eLoop opens processing sites in the State College area and eastern Pennsylvania. The company doesn't disclose revenue or profit figures.
Most of eLoop's separated or shredded parts go to other Pennsylvania companies for further processing and new uses, he said.
Only about 18 percent of the 27 million TVs thrown away in 2007 were recycled, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
About 70 percent of consumer goods recycled through eLoop are TVs or computer monitors and the average such device with a cathode ray tube contains 5 to 7 pounds of lead, which can cause brain damage and cancer. Mercury, which can cause birth defects, is found in batteries and liquid crystal display, or LCD, screens.
Old devices sometimes are exported, and untrained workers in developing countries use hammers and other tools to pry copper and other metals from the cases. They're exposed to hazardous materials in the process.
ELoop obtained certification for its recycling processes in August from the Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based organization fighting exportation of toxic waste. Boring said his company, aGreenSpan, which processed close to 1 million pounds of waste last year, follows BAN's standards and is working toward certification.
Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania has worked with computer maker Dell for the past five years to recycle or refurbish old computers, and it began taking TVs last year in its recycling program in anticipation of the new law, spokesman David Tobiczyk said.
Last year, the nonprofit recycled more than 2.5 million pounds of electronics, not counting what was resold.
Municipalities statewide reported recycling 7,140 tons of electronics in 2010, Witman said, but it's unknown how much went into landfills. DEP doesn't have a projection for how much could be collected after full implementation of the law.
The law in brief
Highlights of Pennsylvania's Covered Device Recycling Act to end haphazard disposal of TVs and computer equipment:
Dispose of devices at recycling collection sites, starting in January 2013.
• Register devices to be sold in the state each year, and pay a $5,000 fee.
• Set up and submit to state plans to collect and recycle devices.
• Report total weight of devices sold and recycled each year.
• Sell only devices that manufacturers register with the state, effective this month.
• Display information in stores on how consumers can recycle devices.
State Department of Environmental Protection must:
• Assess manufacturers' recycling plans.
• Post a list of approved manufacturers and retailers on its website.
• Post a list of collection sites where consumers can drop devices.
These devices are, or are not, required to be recycled once the law takes full effect in January 2013:
• Covered: Desktop, laptop or notebook computers and monitors; microprocessing units; keyboards; printers; scanners and TVs with screens 4 inches or larger.
• Not covered: Calculators; microwave ovens; land-line or cellular phones; GPS (global positioning system) units, personal digital assistants or smartphones, or components of appliances such as refrigerators, washers or dryers.
• aGreenSpan Computer Recycling Inc. at 30 Ali St., Sharpsburg; Hours 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Call in advance, 866-904-7726.
• eLoop LLC, of Plum; operates 30 recycling sites statewide. Details at eloopllc.com.
• Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, takes computers and TVs for recycling at stores and attended donation sites. Details, goodwillswpa.org.
• Pennsylvania recycling hotline, 800-346-4242. Specifics on electronics collection programs are on the state Department of Environmental Protection website.