E-waste by the ton

SARANAC LAKE – It’s gotten easier to dispose of old computers, television sets, cell phones, etc., without polluting landfills, and local people are doing it in a big way.

Judi Latt found out recently that local people recycled 21,691 pounds – close to 11 tons – of electronic junk, also known as “e-waste,” in 2012 through the free recycling drop-off service she offers at her Saranac Lake business, Judi’s Computer Support.

Feb. 19 was pick-up day at Judi’s. A truck from Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery, based in Victor near Rochester, was parked outside the business’ entrance at the rear of the state Department of Health building on St. Bernard Street. Truckers Mike Murray and Brian Kerby rolled huge blue plastic bins out from Judi’s store and moved their contents – monitors, computers, TVs, keyboards and the like – into huge cardboard boxes. When each box was full, they wrapped it up with clear plastic and loaded it onto the truck.

Inside these electronic items are heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, beryllium oxide, mercury and brominated flame retardants, which can poison the soil of landfills and do harm to waste-disposal workers exposed to them. There can be 4 to 8 pounds of lead in a single CRT computer monitor, Latt said.

Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery processes this waste, separating the valuable raw materials and selling them back to manufacturers.

Until a few years ago, people disposed of this stuff in landfills, but no more.

“Individuals would just take it to the dump, take it to the dump, take it to the dump, and the dump would take it,” Latt said. “At a certain point, the landfills could not take it, so what did people do? They put it in a plastic bag and took it to the dump.”

Many people just stored it at their homes, not knowing what to do with it, so on Earth Day in 2010 and 2011, Latt partnered with the Enterprise to have a drop-off event in the newspaper’s parking lot. The first year, they collected 20 pallets of old computer equipment. The next year, they saved 10 pallets full from the dump.

Then in 2011, New York state passed the Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, which allows allows companies like Latt’s to recycle electronics at no charge to the public. Judi’s Computer Support was registered with the state Department of Environmental Conservation as a e-waste recycler that April and became a member of the eWASTE Alliance Partner Network that October.

And with that, Latt said, copping a mock-perky voice, “Every day is Earth Day at Judi’s Computer Support.”

A common concern from people about dropping off their old computers is privacy: They don’t want anyone to see the files on their hard drives. Latt said that if someone requests, they’ll take out the computer’s hard drive and destroy it – either with a sledge hammer or by boring holes in it with a drill press.