Oregon e-waste recycling brings more than expected

GRANTS PASS — The first year of free recycling for electronic waste in Oregon brought in more than anyone expected: About five pounds per person, for a total of 18.9 million pounds.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality E-Cycles program manager Kathy Kiwala said Thursday that residents have always been good recyclers, often leading the nation, but this was way beyond expectations of 3.3 pounds per person, or a total of about 12 million pounds.

"Oregonians obviously were ready and waiting to take this stuff into somewhere," she said. "Once a convenient system was in place, people were ready to use it."

Kiwala said more than half the waste was TVs, apparently due to the switch from analog to digital broadcasting.

She said this year should bring in 21 million pounds, since a $500 fine went into effect Jan. 1 for each component of e-waste that is tossed in the garbage rather than recycled.

The number of recycling sites is to grow from 220 to 240, she added.

The 2007 state Legislature enacted a law allowing people to recycle seven computers, monitors and televisions at a time. The program does not cover non-recyclable components, such as keyboards, mice, speakers, printers, scanners or other electronics.

The materials are given to six recyclers stretching from Vancouver, Wash., to Medford, that dismantle the materials so they can be sold as commodities. TV tubes are broken down so that the glass, lead and chemical linings are separated and sold. Plastic housings are shredded and sold. Wiring is stripped and the metal melted down.

Besides recycling materials, the law is helping protect groundwater by keeping hazardous materials such as mercury, cadmium and fire retardants out of landfills, said Katy Daily, co-president of Recycling Advocates.

The DEQ said the recycling has kept 1 million pounds of lead out of landfills and incinerators and prevented the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to annual emissions of 34,000 cars.

State Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, a sponsor of the bill that led to the recycling program, said he hopes to work on legislation for the 2011 session that would expand the program to include compact fluorescent lightbulbs, which are known as CFL bulbs and contain mercury, computer printers and other materials that contribute to household hazardous waste.

"As people begin to burn through the first generation of CFL bulbs, we certainly want to keep them out of landfills," he said. "The e-waste program creates a model, a template, for the kind of approach we can take to recycling CFLs as well other electronic goods."

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