by Sue Ann Rybak
The facts are shocking: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, of the 2.25 million tons of electronics – televisions, cell phones, computers and monitors – retired in 2007, 83 percent were discarded, mostly to landfills.
What’s worse is that, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, about two-thirds of the estimated 304 million pieces of electronic equipment removed from households in 2005 still worked.
Many electronic devices contain lead, mercury and other toxic materials that can leak from landfills to groundwater or be released into the air when incinerated. The cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in most computer monitors and television screens have X-ray shields that contain 4 to 8 pounds of lead, mostly embedded in glass. Discarded monitors and televisions are believed to be the largest sources of lead in landfills.
But, organizations like Green in Chestnut Hill (GRinCH) are working to prevent obsolete computers and other electronics from being dumped in landfills by providing opportunities for residents to recycle their electronic waste responsibly. GRinCH is hosting its semiannual Weird Waste Day on April 20 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Norwood Fontbonne Academy, 8891 Germantown Ave.
Amy Edelman, president of GRinCH and owner of Night Kitchen Bakery in Chestnut Hill, said “Anything with a plug” will be accepted and recycled – except large appliances. All the materials collected will be processed by eForce Compliance, one of the first e-Steward certification recycling companies in the Delaware Valley. E-Steward certification prohibits recycling companies from exporting, landfilling, burning, or prisoner-processing of hazardous e-waste.
Prior to hosting its first Weird Waste Day, GRinCH toured eForce’s facility located in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia.
“We wanted to make sure that eForce was doing what they claimed they were doing,” said Edelman, who recalled watching a report on PBS’s “Frontline” about Philadelphia School District computers that ended up in a landfill in Ghana.
“One of the telltale signs that a company is not actually dismantling the electronics is shipping containers,” Edelman said. “That was not the case at eForce. They were very open and transparent.”
Edelman said there have been some changes to the event through the years.
“When we first started the event, eForce used to charge us 40 cents per pound for all the electronics brought to us,” Edelman said. “It could be quite expensive. People were often shocked to hear that they owed $60 or $80 because the electronics weighed so much – especially older televisions and desktop computers.”
She said a year or two ago, Pennsylvania passed a law requiring the recycling companies to “bear some of the burden” by paying a portion of the cost of recycling. Last year, GRinCH was not charged a fee for transporting the e-waste, but they did ask people to make donations to fund their “Green Warrior Student Grant Program,” which encourages and supports students and student groups to develop ideas that will contribute to a greener, cleaner Chestnut Hill.
Edelman said because of an issue with the glass on newer computers, eForce is charging GRinCH $1,000 this month to transport the materials to its facility.
“The glass is highly toxic and it has been difficult for them to dispose of it correctly,” she said. “So, we are asking people to make a $10 or $20 donation to help pay for the fee. The remaining funds collected would go into our grant program.”
Edelman estimated that over the past several years GRinCH has collected at least 50 tons of e-waste.
For more information on eForce Compliance and what types of material it recycles, visit its website at eforcecompliance.com or call 215-964-6665.