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December 23, 2010

Turning Over Technology

By Matt Hutton
Daily Review Atlas
Posted Dec 23, 2010 @ 05:18 PM
Last update Dec 23, 2010 @ 05:27 PM

MONMOUTH — Protect the environment. Check. Find a home for electronics that soon won’t be permitted in landfills. Check. Establish a program that could bring in needed revenue to help people with disabilities. Check.

 

Warren Achievement Center received a $75,000 grant from the state and recently began its new electronic recycling program in partnership with Tri-County Waste and Vintage Tech in Romeoville.

 

“It’s beyond a win-win,” Director of Achievement Industries Barb Huyser said. “Nobody loses.”

 

Tri-County collects the electronics at drop off sites within the district — which after Jan. 1 will include WAC. WAC disassembles the computers, monitors, etc., and sends them to Vintage Tech, which then takes the commodities and sells them with all parties getting a cut of the resale.

 

Huyser said she was thrilled to work with Vintage Tech because they have the highest level of recycling certification.

 

“None of this stuff will end up in a third world being taken apart by a 6-year-old,” she said.

 

In 2012 no electronics will be allowed in landfills because, while the heavy metals in electronics are not hazardous when in the product, they can breakdown in landfills and get into drinking water, Tri-County Solid Waste Coordinator Chad Braatz said. The primary items collected are what he called the big four — computer monitors and flat screens, CPUs, printers and TVs — but they will also take all the peripherals such as mice, keyboards and flash drives.

 

“From a curling iron to the most sophisticated server, none of it will go in the landfill,” Huyser said.

 

Floor manager Lewy Neal said all the computer and other electronic parts are recycled. The parts are valuable because they contain small amounts of gold, zinc, copper, metal and plastic.

 

The disassembling process starts with the cage — which along with heating, remodeling and equipment was paid for with the grant money — where computers are stored and watched by security monitors. Neal and Huyser stressed the security of the area and their ability to either erase or destroy hard drives if they contain sensitive data. Computers in good enough condition are actually refurbished and sold.

 

After Neal has taken care of the hard drives, consumers go to work taking the machines apart. Not all consumers can do the work, Huyser said, because it requires strength and dexterity. The parts are sorted into hard drives, motherboards, power supplies, fans, wires, glass tubes, plastics and metals.

 

“It’s not easy. No two brands are alike, they’re built differently,” Neal said. “You just start unscrewing every screw you can find and start pulling them apart.”

 

Some monitors require a small crow bar to pry the casing off, but some models have buttons in the back and allow the entire case to be lifted right off.

 

The state grant money comes from fees collected through landfills.

 

“If people do the right thing with their garbage we can write grants an get money back in the community,” Braatz said.

 

Because not all consumers can work with the electronics, Huyser said she hopes the program will become so successful they can hire outside workers without disabilities to work alongside the WAC consumers. In fact, with Warren Achievement Center’s budget slashed by state cuts, the staff is looking to find extra revenue wherever they can and Huyser wants the recycling program to not only be self-sufficient but also bring in extra money.

 

“Any penny we make in profit goes back to help people with disabilities,” she said.

 

Neal and Huyser both went out of their way to praise Braatz, who they credited with helping get the electronics as well as the paint recycling programs up and running.

 

“He’s passionate about recycling and passionate about our cause,” Neal said.

 

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