Electronic waste in mid-Missouri gets collected, recycled

Sunday, November 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 5:40 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 8, 2009
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In the fiscal year 2008, the first e-waste collections were held and 9.79 tons of electronic waste was collected. Fifteen e-waste collections were held in the fiscal year 2009 in which 89.19 tons of e-waste was collected. So far three collections in the fiscal year 2010 have been held, resulting in 7.26 tons of e-waste collected.

COLUMBIA – Craving the newest TV, computer or cell phone might hurt more than just your bank account. It can create a pile of discarded older electronics. Electronic waste, or e-waste, can create environmental hazards if improperly disposed of.

The Mid-MO Recycling and the Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District held an e-waste collection Saturday at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

This was the first e-waste collection in which Mid-MO Recycling offered to destroy hard drives at the collection, and Mid-MO Recycling Manager Cathy Rupard said it was a huge success.

Rupard estimated 40 to 50 hard drives were destroyed. Mid-MO Recycling charged a $5 fee to destroy hard drives already out of computers and a $10 fee if the hard drives had to be removed from computers.

The company accepted items it doesn't usually collect, such as a bicycle and electronic toothbrush, Mid-MO Recycling President Stanley Fredrick said. It didn't, however, accept the toilet that someone brought in.

Both Fredrick and Rupard said the collection was very successful, and some trucks that collected electronics were so full that they had to be emptied and loaded again.

Rupard said a lot of TVs and VCRs were collected. Fredrick estimated that 300 cars dropped off electronics and about 30,000 pounds of e-waste was collected.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimated that 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated each year worldwide.

Electronics make up almost two percent of the municipal solid waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mark Conner, public information specialist at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Hazardous Waste Program, said that "electronic waste discarded by businesses, schools and nonprofits may be regulated as hazardous waste, but electronic waste discarded by private individuals is not regulated." 

The Missouri Senate passed the Manufacturer Responsibility and Consumer Convenience Equipment and Recovery Act in 2008, which "requires manufacturers of computers to implement recovery plans for the collection of and the recycling or reuse of their obsolete equipment.” These recovery plans have to be submitted to the Department of Natural Resources before manufacturers can sell computers in Missouri.

“Electronics are not banned from landfills, but they’re not safe,” said Cindy Jolly, Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management district manager. She said some electronics have toxic material that “can leak into the soil and water and pollute the air.”

Some of the toxic materials in electronics include lead, mercury, cadmium and brominated flame retardants. 

E-waste is sometimes shipped overseas, where it is taken apart for metals. However, little consideration is often given to the toxic waste in these electronics and the impact it has on workers taking them apart. Exposure to these materials has been linked to reproductive problems and cancers, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

An advantage of recycling e-waste is that many products in electronics can be recovered and reused. Cell phones and other electronics often contain metals such as gold and silver that can be extracted.

Recycling these materials means metals can be reused, reducing mining, Conner said.

“If an organization tells us they’re collecting items, we put them aside,” Rupard said.

The Mid-Missouri Solid Waste District has a contract with Mid-MO Recycling to collect e-waste until June 30, 2010, Jolly said. Mid-MO Recycling has been in business since 1993 and specializes in collecting e-waste.

Rupard said the company ensures workers’ safety by not taking apart electronics that have hazardous materials such as lead. She said these items are shipped to St. Louis to be taken apart safely.

According to the district's Web site, most electronics collected are sold wholesale to local computer stores while others are given to nonprofit organizations or demanufactured by Mid-MO Recycling.

"Items are reused or resold if they do not contain confidential information," Rupard said.

Mid-MO Recycling does not receive compensation from the district. Rupard said the company assumes all the costs of collections and makes money from sales of the materials.

Mid-MO Recyling also collects electronics from businesses in other Missouri cities including St. Louis, Rolla, Kansas City and Jefferson City, Rupard said.

There are several other companies that accept e-waste all year, including Best Buy and Staples.

The organizations charged a $5 fee for TVs, computer monitors, copy machines and microwaves. All other electronics were collected at no charge. Items can be dropped off at Mid-MO Recycling at 6104 Brown Station Road.

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