Environment
1:19 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

Discarded Electronics Create Environmental Problems Nationwide...Is This the Case in Louisville?

The New York Times ran a story earlier this week that chronicles the growing problem of electronic waste in America. Even when consumers take their old devices to recycling centers (rather than disposing of them in landfills), often the electronics don’t actually get recycled properly. This made me wonder: is this the case in Louisville?

The story by Ian Urbina talks about warehouses full of old computers and televisions, leaching toxics like lead into the air and water. Recycling electronics used to be profitable, but since technology like flat screens replaced older TVs, it’s now actually costing some recyclers to get rid of their stockpiles.

“Lots of smaller recyclers are in over their heads, and the risk that they might abandon their stockpiles is very real,” said Jason Linnell of the Electronics Recycling Coordination Clearinghouse, an organization that represents state environmental regulators, electronics manufacturers and recyclers. In February, the group sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency asking for immediate help dealing with the rapidly growing stockpiles of the glass, much of which contains lead.

With so few buyers of the leaded glass from the old monitors and televisions, recyclers have collected payments from states and electronics companies to get rid of the old machines. A small number of recyclers have developed new technology for cleaning the lead from the tube glass, but the bulk of this waste is being stored, sent to landfills or smelters, or disposed of in other ways that experts say are environmentally destructive.

In 2004, recyclers were paid more than $200 a ton to provide glass from these monitors for use in new cathode ray tubes. The same companies now have to pay more than $200 a ton to get anyone to take the glass off their hands.

In some cases, the electronics are shipped overseas. In 2010, the Basel Action Network (a nonprofit that works to keep toxic waste out of the environment) estimated that 80 percent of the electronics recycled in the United States were sent to countries like China, India, Vietnam and Nigeria. There, the electronics are often dismantled or disposed of in ways that jeopardize worker safety and the environment.

The Basel Action Network—a non-profit that tracks toxics, including e-waste—has installed tracking devices into about 300 electronic devices, with the help of MIT researchers. The devices were dropped off at recycling centers…and about 70 percent of them end up in Hong Kong or China.

E-waste is something environmental engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham wanted addressed in the city's Five-Year Solid Waste Management Plan, but it wasn't.

The good news for Louisville is that the city's (and state's) official electronics recycler (Creative Recycling, which is based in Tampa) seems to be one of the good companies. Creative Recycling is one of a handful of companies that have agreed to be certified to the E-Stewards standards, which means they follow international waste trade rules, and take social accountability standards and environmental management into account. Creative Recycling Senior Vice President Brian Diesselhorst says the company is in the process of getting all of their sites certified. The Louisville location isn't yet, but everything collected in Louisville is shipped for processing to the company's North Carolina recycling facility, which is certified.

So, according to the Metro Government website, if you have:

  • computers
  • scanners
  • printers
  • monitors
  • tape and disk drives
  • electronic game systems
  • VCRs
  • CD players
  • digital cameras
  • copiers
  • cell phones
  • CD's and floppy disks
  • televisions
  • and microwaves..

you can drop up off to three items at a time for free at the Louisville Waste Reduction Center (636 Meriwether Avenue).