Why Big TVs, Illinois Law Are Killing Electronics Recycling Programs

Why Big TVs, Illinois Law Are Killing Electronics Recycling Programs

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Yesterday, we heard the news that the Elgin Habitat ReStore will stop accepting electronics for recycling, starting May 1, because of the large number of TVs the store is receiving from businesses as well as from individuals. Due to sheer volume, ReStore is unable to physically store the TVs and electronic equipment until the units are collected by the recycler.

Now comes the broader story that electronics recycling programs throughout the state of Illinois — and here in Kane County — are struggling due to the certain contingencies of the 2009 Illinois Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act (PA 095-0959).

Here’s the situation:

Since the ban came into effect in January 2011, recycling programs have flourished, with more than 160 million pounds of electronics being recycled instead of being landfilled in Illinois. During the five years from 2010 to 2014 Kane County conducted 60 events, which, in addition to five permanent drop-off locations, have served 69,000 residents and collected more than 6.5 million pounds of electronics.

Recently however, many neighboring electronics recycling programs are struggling to survive because the manufacturer goals were set too low in the original bill, which requires that each manufacturer must recycle 50 percent (by weight) of what was sold two years ago.

“The problem is that what people are recycling is mostly old heavy TVs and computer monitors,” said Kane County Recycling Coordinator Jennifer Jarland, ” and what is selling are lighter-weight flat screens and smaller devices.”

Programs are collecting more material, but the weight goal is going down each year. So for the past two years, recyclers have met their goals well before the end of the year, at which point the funding from the manufacturers is finished until the following year. When manufacturers stop funding the programs, and recyclers stop receiving material from community collections, which are mostly run by counties and municipalities, and provided for free to the public.

The intent of the law was to make the manufacturers responsible for the full life of their product, so the law prohibits charging a recycling fee to residents. Jarland says a solution needs to be found, because local governments cannot afford to sustain the full cost of these programs for half of each year or more.

How It Works in Kane County

Kane County presently contracts with a local R2 certified electronics recycling processor, eWorks Electronics Services Inc. eWorks was established in 2009 to create employment opportunities for people with disabilities. To achieve this mission, eWorks partners with agencies such as AHRC and Misericordia that provide a variety of premium services to assist people with disabilities. eWorks provides competitive recycling, refurbishment and resale services of all types of office and industrial technologies and consumer electronics.

Their process uses the highest industry certifications in safety and security.

The county has been working with eWorks since February of 2014, and Jarland says county officials are very happy with eWorks’ comprehensive and professional service, for the monthly collection event in St. Charles as well as the permanent drop-offs. The event and drop-offs are for Kane County residents only. While eWorks continues to provide these services as it is dealing with the above issues, the program could be in jeopardy, as it is currently in neighboring counties, due to the substantial increases in volume experienced so far this year.

Pending Legislation

Concurrent bills to be introduced this session, HB1455 and SB797, make emergency amendments to the Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act. There are several amendments, including increasing the manufacturer’s recycling weight goals to 80 percemt of the weight of products they sold in Illinois two years ago — up from the original 50 percent goal.

The bill provides that a registered recycler or a refurbisher may not charge individual consumers or units of local government acting as collectors a fee to recycle or refurbish the equipment covered by the law, unless the recycler or refurbisher provides a financial incentive, such as a coupon, that is of greater or equal value to the fee being charged or premium service, such as curbside collection, home pick-up, drop-off locations, or a similar methods of collection.

Jarland says the passing of these bills will help to stabilize some electronics recycling programs in Illinois in the short term while the longer term solutions will be addressed in the upcoming mandated ERRA review and future amendments.

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