Friday, November 14, 2008

Electronics recycling is too much of a bother

Let’s face it; most people won’t recycle their PCs and consumer electronics until it’s free and easy.
Driving through my neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see CRT monitors, TVs and other electronics put out with the trash. The garbage crews dutifully pick up these items and toss them in their trucks with all the other refuse to dump in the landfill.
I try to be a good citizen and recycle as much as I can – aluminum cans, tin cans, plastic bottles, newspaper, office paper, etc. I even save old running shoes to recycle when there are occasional drives.
The last couple of years I’ve saved up my old electronics to drop off at an annual event sponsored by Motorola and the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County, Illinois. I’m aware that electronics gear contains toxic materials such as lead, cadmium and mercury that can leak into the soil and ground water when disposed of in landfills. I don’t want that on my conscience.
This year’s day-long event was held on Oct. 11 at Motorola’s headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill. By all accounts it was a great success. The 10th annual event processed 2,460 vehicles, diverting about 134 tons of residential equipment from the landfill.
But to drop off my small quantity of electronics – a couple of spent lithium-ion laptop batteries, two busted digital cameras, a DVD player, a VCR, a few MP3 players and miscellaneous PC peripherals – I had to wait in a line of traffic for nearly an hour. And that’s after driving 21 miles to get there.
I wouldn’t be surprised if participation at next year’s electronics recycling event drops off because people got fed up with the wait this year.
The problem with recycling electronics is that there’s no simple, standard way to do it. Some businesses offer free recycling on trade-in. Others charge a fee for recycling PCs or TVs. Then there are community recycling events like the one I attended. Consumers have to do some research. Most won’t bother.
Municipalities should encourage some sort of curbside pickup along with the regular recycling collection. Have special, colored plastic bags to hold electronics trash. Better separated than in with the other garbage, I say.

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