VIDEO REPORT: What to Look for When Recycling Electronics

By: Rachelle Baillon Email
By: Rachelle Baillon Email

Thursday, February 28, 2013--10p.m.
In recent years, chances are you've seen--or even participated--in electronics recycling. Temporary--and permanent sites are popping up around the state. "The number of collection sites available to people in Wisconsin has increased by 70 percent since the program started," said Sarah Murray, the coordinator for the state's E-Cycle program. "The E-Cycle Wisconsin program is funded by electronics manufacturers and allows Wisconsin households and schools to recycle their electronics at a fairly low cost," she said.

State law actually now prohibits you from dumping some old electronics in landfills, because of what's in them. "A lot of those materials are valuable and we want to make sure they get used again," said Murray. "The steel and aluminum and plastics, but there are also some potentially harmful materials." Things like lead and mercury. When electronics elements aren't handled properly they can contribute to environmental, even health issues. The problem: some companies have shipped the hazardous parts overseas, where they've been disposed of improperly.

But given that you should--and have to--recycle your old electronics, how can you know if you're taking them someplace legitimate that's disposing of them properly?

"We literally have to weigh each box coming in," said Jim Cornwell, the president of Universal Recycling Technologies. "We do that to provide a mass balance to our customers in the states so we can prove every pound coming in, where it came from and then when we send all the commodities out, what those pounds were and where they went to, so we can validate that we're not exporting materials overseas or doing something improper with it."

We stopped by for a tour of their Janesville facility. The company is what's called e-Stewards certified. "Which means we've been audited by a third-party group that comes in each year, looks at our operation, checks our processes and identifies all the material that comes in our door as well as all the material going out our door to make sure that we are handling and doing what we say we do," explained Cornwell.

Murray said the e-Stewards and R2 certifications are something you can look for in a recycling provider; both are third-party audits.

Cornwell also said a good first step is as simple as being curious.
"The first and best thing is to ask questions," he said. "Who's picking this material up, where is it going, are they certified, have they been inspected by the state or federal, do they have any permits, are they insured? Asking questions is the first step to making sure the material is going to be handled properly."

If you're interested in finding an electronics recycling site near you, check out the DNR's E-Cycle website: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Ecycle/


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