Launch Slideshow

Error: less than 300px wide output not yet supported

The cost of e-waste

The cost of e-waste

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmpBC4%2Etmp_tcm111-1346225.jpg?width=250

    true

    Image

    250

    Jenni Spinner

    Residents drive up to drop off their e-waste during a recent collection event in Lake Surich, III.; the village took in an estimated 38,000 to 40,000 pounds of material.

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmpBC5%2Etmp_tcm111-1346228.jpg?width=250

    true

    Image

    250

    Jenni Spinner

    Left to right: Alec Brown, his father Mike Brown—superintendent of general services for the Lake Zurich, Ill., public works department—and Nathan Armstrong, director of operations for Bolingbrook, Ill., salvage company E-Scrap Technologies discuss the recent successful e-waste collection event at the village's public works yard.

  • Image

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/tmpBC6%2Etmp_tcm111-1346230.jpg?width=250

    true

    Image

    250

    Timothy Osgood

    This Chicago event is common to many other e-waste events. Residents dropped of items—from TVs to computers to printers—which were then sorted and carted off to a recycling facility.

One of the biggest problems for municipal public works departments that want to get involved in e-waste collection and recycling is the cost of entry—a cost that, unlike other solid waste collection and processing sectors, offers little to no upside for the cities involved. The only thing driving public works departments to create collection events and help their residents deal with e-waste is their environmental conscience and their commitment to the community.

“It's extraordinarily easy to do, but it's also expensive,” said Rubinstein. “You are not going to get money back. It's the only waste stream I know of where, except for avoided disposal costs, there is no financial upside for municipalities.”

That said, however, the number of cities and towns getting into the e-waste stream clearly is on the rise, for reasons ranging from state-level pressure to residential responsibility. Again, few would argue against the importance of this area of solid waste, making it more of an issue of how and when rather than why or if.

WAYS AND MEANS

After determining—either by state mandate or by their own responsibility to their constituencies—that they're going to help their residents deal with e-waste, municipalities are faced with the question of exactly how to go about integrating e-waste into their processes. Several decisions must be made, ranging from how to structure collection activities to who to select as partners, if anyone.

“There's not one thing—it's a comprehensive approach,” said Flint. “We push for communities to have integrated solid waste management systems with enough flexibility to add and remove certain components.”

Flint added that just as with any other waste stream and collection activity—curbside recycling, for example, or drop-off events for household hazardous waste—ease of use is the primary factor that will get people involved and active.

“Above all, you have to make it easy for the consumer,” he said. “If it's cumbersome, people will just decide not to do it.” Many public works departments opt for partners, both to help them set up and execute collection events in their communities and to facilitate where materials go and how they are processed once they're collected. Here again, choosing the right partner based on their track record and their methods is critical, particularly in an industry sector where shady practices—such as exporting collected materials to developing countries where they are exploited for their remaining value and then improperly disposed of—are widespread.

“We're not a reseller, exporter, or landfiller,” said Timothy Osgood, director of corporate recycling for Inter-con Solutions, Chicago, which helps cities organize collection events and processes the material collected to varying degrees, depending on the material. “We remove it from the stream.”

Osgood maintained that the value of collecting and processing e-waste is in the community good, which makes how materials are handled that much more important. “It's good publicity to say you're doing a collection event and that you're keeping this out of the waste stream,” he said.