West Life: E-waste, a different kind of trash
You’ve been using the shiny new laptop you got for Christmas for a few months now. It’s time to spring clean, and your old laptop has been gathering dust because you weren’t sure what do with it, or you were too lazy to deal with it and just wanted to play with the new one. Your choices?
A) Let it continue to gather dust and/or use it as a doorstop.
B) Take it to a thrift store and make it their problem. (Um, that’s not nice!)
C) Use it for desert shooting practice ... or not, because dumping junk on BLM land is totally illegal.
D) Try to sneak it into the landfill. However, it’s also illegal to dump electronics in the Mesa County Landfill, and the “spotter” at the landfill will probably see you doing it and tell you to pick it up.
E) Pay 42 cents per pound to recycle it at the Mesa County Hazardous Waste Collection Facility. Last year, people chose to dispose of 135,165 pounds of electronic waste or e-waste, this way.
F) Give it to an e-waste recycler who takes it for free.
Ladies and gentlemen, unless you want to pass on your problem or possibly incur a fine, your choice is clearly options E or F.
The bottom line is, old computers, cell phones and other electronic devices or waste are a different kind of trash.
Electronics contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and silver that can leach into soil and groundwater if disposed of improperly.
Cathode ray tubes (CRT) found in color TVs and computer monitors contain lead. Older computers can have mercury switches. Also, the batteries used in cell phones and electronics can contain nickel, cadmium, lithium or lead.
In many cases, improperly disposing of e-waste is illegal. Colorado law prohibits businesses, schools and other government agencies from disposing of any e-waste in landfills.
According to Warren Smith, community involvement manager of the state’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division, e-waste from homes doesn’t fall under the same laws. Yet.
Proposed legislation, Colorado Senate Bill 133, would ban all e-waste from landfills beginning July 1, 2013. The bill was approved by the House Local Government Committee this week and moved on for consideration by the House.
Seventeen states already have banned e-waste from landfill, according to the Electronics Take Back Coalition, which promotes electronics recycling.
On March 1, the federal government announced that all of its agencies are now prohibited from disposing e-waste in landfills.
So, back to that laptop you may or may not use as a dusty doorstop. There’s a business in Grand Junction that actually WANTS your e-waste.
Ken Burns and his brother-in-law, Jeff Ferguson, started E-Waste Recyclers of Colorado last year. They accept most electronics for free, except the ones that they would have to pay to dispose of properly themselves (TVs).
Burns knows a lot about e-waste as his job used to be buying and selling computers when he was the seventh-largest computer retailer on eBay. He used to want computers to resell, now he wants them for recycling.
In the old Ashley Furniture Warehouse on First Street, Burns’ assembly line of employees takes apart electronics, sorting the circuit boards, copper, steel, aluminum, platinum and wires into separate containers. The business makes its money on a sort of urban mining, reclaiming materials from e-waste.
Burns reached into a box and held up a high-grade circuit board, pointing out the shiny bits.
“That’s real gold!” he said. “There’s more gold per ton in e-waste than in gold-bearing ore.”
Burns and Ferguson started the business in August after moving to the Western Slope. They began in a 10x10 storage unit, disassembling electronics in the gravel lot with a minimum of tools: a hammer with a broken claw, two screwdrivers and wire cutters.
Burns’ top three wanted e-waste items are computers, laptops and cell phones. “There are more bad chemicals in cell phones than in anything else,” he said. “And they’re small enough that the trash guys don’t notice them.”
Burns estimates that most computers are out-of-date within six months to two years of purchase. Cell phones have an equally short life span, with many carriers offering upgrades every year or two.
“Everything now is designed to break as soon as you buy it,” Burns said. “It has a built-in obsolescence.”
E-Waste Recyclers also accepts larger appliances such as refrigerators, and will arrange pick up for $25 within the Grand Junction city limits or $50 outside the city limits. Business pickups are free.
The business also guarantees the waste will remain within the United States, and none of it will end up in a landfill.