Outdated, but not worthless

Company helps environment, finds value in recycling electronics

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today's a big day. Today's the day you've been waiting for ever since you forked over $1,999 two weeks ago. Today's the day you're going to replace your dusty old computer with the new top of the line, brand spanking new one. But once you've booted up your new computer, what do you do with the old one?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, approximately $58 million dollars of gold, $3.7 million of silver and $33 million of copper were lost to landfills in 2005 from desktop computers; and about 800,000 pounds of lead and 1.3 million pounds of arsenic were lost to landfills because people threw away their outdated machines.

"The money value is nearly $100 million, just for 2005 prices," said Reilly Kosinski, outreach coordinator for Seattle-based recycling company Total Reclaim Inc. "And that's just for 2005 prices. All prices (have gone) up in the last couple of years."

There is a way to get rid of that old computer without leaving it with the countless other outdated machines piled up in landfills across the United States. Kenai Peninsula residents will have a chance to drop their old monitors, keyboards, cell phones, kitchen appliances and other electronics at the Central Peninsula Landfill from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 3. Members of Total Reclaim will load old electronics onto trailers bound for their Anchorage branch, and package and ship them to Washington.

Kosinski said an electronic appliance by itself doesn't contain a significant amount of hazardous waste. But with four to eight pounds of lead in computer monitors, beryllium in TVs and mercury in flourescent lightbulbs, if you throw an appliance in a landfill, you're just concentrating the hazardous material.

"There's a potential for real harm," he said.

Total Reclaim is a for-profit company that takes in old electronics, isolates the hazardous material and sells the material to the manufacturers.

Kosinski said recycled electronics used to wind up in China or other oversees countries where workers would remove the valuable material inside the appliance and then throw the rest away. Total Reclaim began recovering refrigerant in 1991 before it started recycling almost every appliance with a plug, including fluorescent lightbulbs, CDs and DVDs and disks. Now the company's expanded to not only include Anchorage, but to educate the rural communities why recycling your old TV set is so important.

"(Now that) we've expanded to Alaska, we're getting a good response," Kosinski said, adding that Total Reclaim is beginning to find a way for rural Alaskans to get their waste out of their communities. "It's expensive to get rid of waste, but all the stuff has to get up there, there's an avenue to get it back out."

When asked if there are any appliances Total Reclaim can't recycle, Kosinski said he couldn't take audio and video tapes because once you rip the tape out all you have to worry about is the plastic casing, vacuum cleaners because there's nothing really hazardous about them either, and smoke detectors and exit signs because they contain radioactive material.

"It would cost up to $80,000 to clean up an exit sign," he said, adding that the signs usually contain a substance known as tridium. "We can't take in stuff with a lot of hazardous material."

Households must pay $15 per vehicle up to three monitors. Businesses and non profits will be charged 35 cents per pound and must schedule an appointment. Non-profits will be eligible for a 25-cent per pound mail-in refund with proof of their 501(c)3 status. Kosinski said the reason folks aren't paid for their recycling is because even though computers cost $1,000, recyclers only extract between $6 and $10 of materials.

"If we paid, we'd go out of business real fast," Kosinski said. "You're going to have to pay to recycle."

Why should people recycle their electronics?

In addition to keeping stuff out of landfills, Kosinski said Anchorage landfills are beginning to restrict the amount of electronic waste they receive.

"It lowers the impact on the environment and natural resources. And it can bring down the cost for recycling and production," Kosinski said. He also tells young adults to be responsible when they purchase the latest iPod or hand-held video game consul. "You're making an investiment. You're also buying everything that's put into it, hazardous and non-hazardous."

Jessica Cejnar can be reached at jessica.cejnar@peninsulaclarion.com.

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