|How to Deal with Electronics Waste
Four steps to successful management and recycling
by Patrick Walker, South Carolina State Manager for the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP)
Electronics waste (such as computers, monitors, printers, televisions and vacuum cleaners) can be one of the most difficult recycling commodities for a county/community to collect and manage. In our state of South Carolina, this waste stream has been banned from disposal in landfills since 2011, resulting in significantly large volumes of electronics being collected as waste. This is particularly a problem in our rural counties. Under a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development, Southeast RCAP has been assisting many of these rural counties in developing a management plan for large volumes of electronics waste.
Without proper collection, storage, and packaging procedures, bulky electronic waste can easily overtake a collection facility and potentially cause environmental issues. This waste contains harmful metals such as copper and lead, which can leach out if exposed to moisture for extended periods. This is the primary reason many states, including South Carolina, have banned them from landfills.
To minimize environmental concerns and maximize success with electronic waste recycling, county governments should actively implement the following four steps:
- Before collecting, encourage citizens and businesses to recycle for reuse by donating usable electronics to schools, churches, and other small businesses. This reduces the immediate waste stream and provides valuable and needed resources to other entities. In South Carolina, legislation adopted in 2014 states a manufacturer may not sell consumer television, monitor, computer, or printing devices unless they provide a recovery program for those devices. In addition, many retailers such as Best Buy and Staples offer collection programs. Counties should encourage everyone to take advantage of these programs.
- When establishing an electronics waste collection area, it should be covered and sufficient in size to allow pallets or cardboard containers to be utilized to initially receive electronic waste. This will greatly reduce the need to double/triple handle the waste and limit random dumping of the waste at the collection area.
- Develop a regular routine for shrink wrapping the waste on pallets or closing collection containers. This will minimize scavenging at the collection site, breakage of glass contained as part of the electronics, and exposure to the elements.
- And finally, have a responsible contractor or collection service routinely pick up the pallets/cardboard containers for transport to a processor. The contractor should be well known in the field of electronics recycling and/or processing. Know where the waste stream is going and who is actually processing it. No county wants the continued liability of having the collected waste dumped and not processed; or of having it “stored” in a warehouse for someone else to address. While not common, both of these events have occurred with electronics waste in South Carolina. Counties should check with their State Recycling Agency to confirm the status of their selected contractor.
With the proper management and oversight, electronics waste can be appropriately collected and processed for the benefit of citizens and businesses; and certainly for the protection of the environment.