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December 26, 2011

That Outdated Electronic Gear? Wait, don't toss it

BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY

In clearing the post-Christmas clutter, do not throw out the old electronic gadgets with the wrappings.

 

As of Jan. 1, that will be against the law.

 

According to the state’s new and improved Electronic Recycling and Reuse Act — which was amended this year — it will be illegal to throw them out and illegal for landfills to accept them.

 

Not only are consumers required to recycle TVs, computers, video games and much more, but so are manufacturers.

 

Proponents hail it as an “amazing job creator” and a “boon to economic development,” not to overlook the obvious benefit of keeping toxic chemicals out of landfills and groundwater.

 

According to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the increasingly short life span of electronic items makes them the fastest-growing waste. They contain a lot of toxic materials — lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium — but also a lot of reusable materials — copper, gold, plastic, glass, circuit chips.

 

“This is a huge boon for economic growth,” said Melville Nickerson, an ELPC attorney.

 

Given that the Christmas holidays and the span leading up to Super Bowl Sunday are the busiest buying time for new electronic equipment, environmentalists are preparing for a recycling surge in 2012.

 

Will County’s recycling specialist, Marta Keane, expects to more than double the 1 million pounds of electronics the county recycled in the first nine months of this year.

 

“That’s not even as significant as it sounds,” she said, citing that only 10 percent of people are good about recycling — even if it’s difficult.

 

If recycling is “convenient,” people will do it, Nickerson said.

 

“It will take a year or two or three to become more ingrained in our culture. Within the next five years, this will become second nature,” he said.

 

It could not be more convenient than free pickup service at one’s front door.

 

Will County began such a pilot program this year for its residents with Romeoville recycler Vintage Tech and gradually expanded it to include all towns in the county.

 

Karrie Gibson, president of Vintage Tech, said her crews pick up an average of 4,000 pounds of electronics daily.

 

“It’s such a good program,” she said. “Will County has been asking for this for some time.”

 

When manufacturers stepped up to fund it, it was “the perfect match,” Gibson said.

 

Vintage Tech collects the items, then dismantles, recycles and refurbishes what it can, she said.

 

Alex Blackshire, of the New Neighborhood Development, a nonprofit organization in South Holland, just began to offer free pickup service to residents, schools, businesses and government offices within a 25-mile radius that have at least three items or 75 pounds to discard.

 

“We’re willing to go further, but we’re not going 25 miles for a cell phone,” Blackshire said. He will accept “anything that has a cord,” and will donate 10 percent of proceeds to charity.

 

Blackshire is seeking more warehouse space and hopes to add collection sites to accommodate what he predicts will be a “great rush.”

 

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Will County also operate permanent collection sites where anyone can drop off their unwanted electronic items.

 

Cook County’s chief sustainability officer, Deb Stone, said she hopes to announce 10 new sites very soon — most of which are in the south suburbs.

 

Nickerson said some stores, such as Best Buy, will accept old equipment when a new item is purchased.

 

The amended law mandates more items be recycled — more than any other state requires — such as VCRs, DVD players, keyboards, computer mice, fax machines, scanners, video game consoles and digital converter boxes.

 

The law also sets the highest recycling goals for manufacturers.

 

In 2012, they must recycle — by weight — 40 percent of what they sold in 2010. By 2013, the goal increases to 50 percent.

 

That means e-recycling will increase from 28 million pounds in 2011 to more than 50 million in 2012.

 

Nickerson’s favorite part of the law is extra credit for manufacturers if they refurbish an item and donate it to a family in need or a school.

 

While the IEPA will enforce the law at the state’s 48 landfills, they won’t be snooping through people’s garbage cans, Nickerson said. If items are placed at the curb for garbage pickup, waste haulers will not take them.

 

“There are no garbage police. Individuals will do their own policing,” he said. “As awareness grows, people will see it is simply the right thing to do.”