TRI-COUNTY AREA—Electronics seem to be obsolete not long after hitting the market. Because of this and how often electronics can break down, people are always buying new gadgets, but what happens to the old ones?
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation Web site (http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/9085.html) there are a number of eWaste recyclers, including Bruin Computer Trading and Recycling, E-Waste Technologies & Remarketing, Sunnking Inc., REACT and Regional Computer Recycling and Recovery (RCR&R).
Charlie McKernan, director of client services for RCR&C in Victor, N.Y., said those electronics ready to be thrown out (now “eWaste”) contain elements that are harmful to the environment. Televisions have Cathode Ray Tubes made of lead and brominated flame retardant pieces to keep it from catching on fire. Computers have the same fire protection and most electronics that contain circuit boards also have trace elements of mercury, cadmium and beryllium. He explained that while all are harmful to the environment, they do serve a purpose in the equipment.
McHernan said the way RCR&R, which does electronic disposal all over New York, currently gets rid of electronics is one of the safest ways. Inside the facility electronics are taken in and sorted out by type. Recyclers of eWaste can take everything from monitors, printers, keyboards, fax machines, televisions, batteries, phones, MP3 players and microwaves. They usually do not take appliances like refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers.
Once sorted, the electronics are taken apart to the bare components for recycling. Ed Hitchings, account manager, explained because each brand of equipment is put together differently the process must be done by hand. Plastic computer casings are put together in a box, all cables in another, metal in a third, etc. Once broken apart and sorted, the materials are recycled. Hitchings said the metal pieces could be reused in cars, glass in new monitors and the plastic in decks.
While recycling the parts is good for the environment, eWaste recyclers must also take another step when it comes to computer hard drives. McKernan said companies and hospitals are required by law to make sure information left on computers is as destroyed as the device itself. The public also needs to remember that their computers might contain credit card or banking information. McKernan said personal computers also keep track of where on the Internet people have been.
There are two ways information is removed. In the first, information on the hard drive is wiped over seven times with ‘1’s and ‘0’s; which makes up computer code. The second way is dropping the hard drive into a shredder. In the end, that piece of the computer is nothing but mangled bits from which no information can be retrieved. At RCR&R, both procedures take place within a locked cage. Hitchings added the entire facility is being watched by video surveillance.
“It’s serious stuff, a big problem,” said Hitchings about the importance of securely destroying information.
McKernan said there were three misconceptions about eWaste and recycling it. The first is there is a “fortune in precious metals” in electronics. He explained the average computer has 20 cents worth of precious metals, not making it worth extracting them.
The second concerns the electronics being obsolete. Computers donated to nonprofit organizations and low income people are usually older. With that comes data security and compatibility concerns. The third misconception is that materials can be sold online. McKernan explained the third belief ties with equipment being obsolete and the fact it still needs to be properly disposed of to protect the environment.
However, if a computer company needs casings or other pieces for a computer they no longer sell, but do repair, recyclers may has the parts.
While RCR&R does not do house calls for individuals that might have one computer to get rid of, the company is working on recycling events and permanent drop-off sites across the state. Other electronic recyclers in the state also sometimes set up such events.
An event is planned for Schuyler County during the Green Grand Prix, May 2. Sponsored by the Schuyler County Environmental Management Council, the drop-off will take place from noon to 3 p.m. at the Watkins Glen School District bus garage on Decatur Street. Televisions, computers and large electronics will cost $5 to be taken, while smaller electronics will cost $1. Schuyler County also has an annual day in September.
In Yates County, a drop-off day is scheduled for April 22 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., on Earth Day, at the Yates Chamber of Commerce (2375 Route 14A in Penn Yan). A payment of $5 will cover computers, printers and other large items. Dropping off a television will cost $10 but accessories and smaller items are free. A drop-off day is also being scheduled for Bath in June.