The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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April 22, 2014

Many items can’t be thrown away

Electronics full of toxic materials

- — The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

It’s been more than a year since Act 101 changed laws regarding the disposal of electronic equipment, batteries and fluorescent lights, and people have embraced the change, Zona said, noting that today’s Earth Day collection of electronics is already booked solid from people who pre-registered.

“It’s illegal now to dump televisions, computers and peripheral equipment into the trash because all of those devices, basically anything with a circuit board, is toxic,” Zona said, “so several times a year we host a collection effort.”

Many of those items that were scrapped a year ago are now leaking toxic chemicals into the water supply, where most of it is filtered out though treatment plants.

Some of those chemicals include rare earth elements such as hafnium and arsenic, he said. “It’s basically the old-style monitors, the CRTs that have between four and eight pounds of lead in them, so says the EPA,” Zona said.

Landfills that accept electronics can be fined, as can haulers who take the equipment there instead of to an acceptable drop-off site, he said, and as fines are given out, Zona said, awareness is increasing.

“The good news is that these products are easy to recycle. And people really seem to be getting on board with it. We’re filling up spots for June for our electronics recycling program, even with the fees we’ve had to charge,” he said.

At one time, Zona said, they charged per item. Now, $20 allows residents to drop off a carload of items such as computers, old phones, anything with a plug, he added.

He said he believes people are becoming much more aware of the environment and their impact on it.

Recycling isn’t mandated in communities with fewer than 5,000 residents, but Zona said he’d like to see that expand, especially since “single-stream” recycling makes it almost effortless. With that type of recycling, there is no need to separate cans, bottles and plastics. “It’s all mixed together from the resident’s end,” he said.

“Recycling can be challenging, particularly in rural areas where it’s sometimes a mile or two between houses,” he said.

And while the effort is made to protect the environment, Zona said, there is a cost-savings consumers see as well.

“You don’t necessarily see it up front like you once did, like when churches or Boy Scouts or some other group raised money by collecting bottles and cans and newspapers, but now when you have a new product made from an old product, the savings show up there,” Zona said.

As an example, Zona said a used aluminum can be made into a new can in less than two weeks, requiring “90 percent less energy than the original can.”

“That energy savings is evident by the purchase price. It might not be tangible in the sense that you take that money and put it in your pocket, but you’re likely saving thousands over the course of your lifetime,” Zona said.

 

Details about local electronics recycling and other programs are available at co.lawrence.pa.us. or by calling 724-658-6925.

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