Electronic waste recycling picks up

State program to collect 41M pounds in 2011

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter




IMS Electronics Recycling, 2401 St. Francis Lane, Vancouver

Central Transfer and Recycling Center, 11034 N.E. 117th Ave., Vancouver

West Van Materials Recovery Center, 6601 N.W. Old Lower River Road, Vancouver

Washougal Transfer Station, 4020 S. Grant St., Washougal

Working electronics can also be taken to donation centers such as Goodwill.


Check out Clark County’s recycling index or E-Cycle Washington.

It’s a situation at least some Washington families will face this Christmas season: Bringing home a new TV or computer as a gift, hooking it up — and then realizing the old one still sits on the floor, no longer wanted.

Now what?

For the past three years, more people have been shying away from the garbage can and turning to recycling, boosting volumes for the state’s “E-Cycle” program that launched in 2009. The program is expected to collect more than 41 million pounds of used electronics this year alone.

“There’s really a pretty strong recycling ethic in the state of Washington,” said Miles Kuntz, program manager for E-Cycle Washington. “Even before 2009, people were holding onto TVs and computers.”

Those two items account for by far the largest portion of items that come through E-Cycle, which offers free collection of unwanted electronics across the state. TVs alone made up more than two-thirds of total

weight collected — more than 26 million pounds — this year through November, according to state data. Monitors and computers combined to weigh in at more than 11 million pounds during the same time period, according to the data.

Not surprisingly, the bulk of that volume came from the state’s biggest population centers in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Clark County residents recycled 2.6 million pounds of electronics through November, already well past the 2010 total of 2.25 million pounds.

Locally, the state program replaced a Clark County initiative with much the same goal, said county sustainability specialist Rob Guttridge. When E-Cycle launched in 2009, the county simply stepped into a supportive role to help promote it, he said. That effort is helped by the fact that one of the state’s major processors — IMS Electronics Recycling — operates a facility in Vancouver.

IMS is one of several collectors in Clark County, as are the county’s three transfer stations. But unused electronics don’t always have to be scrapped — E-Cycle and local officials also encourage people to give working TVs and electronics to donation centers such as Goodwill.

Clark County’s transfer stations accepted electronics before the state program took effect, but for a charge. The launch of E-Cycle, funded by manufacturers across the state, essentially made it free for local residents, said Chris Thomas, district manager of Columbia Resource Company. But Guttridge and Kuntz both noted many people likely don’t know about their options.

“There’s still continuing need for consumer education,” Guttridge said. “It just takes a little while sometimes for people to notice a program they haven’t had a need for.”

Even in just three years, E-Cycle has seen the breakdown of its items collected change significantly, Kuntz said. TVs, for example, have jumped from 58 percent of total collections in 2009 to almost 69 percent this year.

Because items are measured by weight, TVs likely hold the biggest share as people get rid of old, bulky models in favor of newer, lighter flat screens, Kuntz said. Computers generally have a shorter lifespan, but don’t come close to the same poundage, he said.

As technology continues to evolve, the E-Cycle program will likely continue to shift, Kuntz said. Electronic reader devices are one new arrival starting to make an imprint.

“There’s certainly been a scattering of them,” Kuntz said. “We expect that will certainly increase in the next couple of years.”

Overall, Thomas said Clark County’s three transfer stations have seen their electronic volume increase since they became official collectors with the E-Cycle program. He’s hoping that trend continues.

“The whole goal with that was to keep (electronics) out of the solid waste,” Thomas said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.