FAQs About Recycling Electronics, Batteries, and, Fluorescent Lights
Why do we encourage the recycling of electronics, batteries, and fluorescent lights?
- Electronics, batteries, and fluorescent lights belong to a special category of hazardous waste referred to as universal wastes. Universal wastes generally pose a lower risk to people and the environment than other hazardous wastes. As a result, the rules for their management have been simplified to allow for easy management while still protecting people and the environment.
- Universal wastes are increasingly found dumped illegally along roadways. There have also been serious issues with these materials being improperly disposed overseas.
- Universal wastes do contain hazardous materials that can have a serious impact on our health and environment when not properly disposed. For example, the average TV and computer monitor contains 4 to 8 pounds of lead. Fluorescent lights contain Mercury. Batteries, depending on their type, contain Cadmium, Lithium, and Mercury.
- Universal wastes are becoming more prevalent in our lives. Also, items such as computers and cell phones are replaced frequently. Improperly disposing of these materials can result in the leaching of various chemicals into our drinking water and environment.
What happens to the materials I bring to hard-to-recycle item collection events?
- Lawrence County has partnered with Tri-County CleanWays, a local charitable organization, on universal waste recycling programs since 2004. This program was expanded into Mercer County in 2011.
- The universal waste collection program is registered with and approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP).
- The materials are being transported and demanufactured by Environmental Coordination Services and Recycling (ECS&R), Inc., located nearby in Crawford County. ECS&R is properly permitted and licensed by the EPA and PADEP.
- Fortunately, the materials that make universal waste hazardous are recyclable.
- Electronic items are disassembled into their individual components and separated for recycling. None of the hazardous components are landfilled or incinerated. Approximately 95% of the materials collected at this event are recycled with almost all of the non-recycled material composed of the old wood cabinetry used in the old console style televisions and stereo systems.
Why is there a cost to recycle?
- All waste and recycling programs have costs associated with them. Universal waste programs are more expensive than traditional recycling programs.
- The proper management of electronics in particular involves a process called demanufacturing, which is fairly expensive because it is labor intensive. This process is the reverse of manufacturing and results in the electronic parts being separated by type. This is extremely important for the proper recycling of electronics. For example, circuit boards are sent only to companies that want circuit boards, wire only to companies that want wire and so on. This results in minimal wasted materials.
- All too often, whole electronic items are sent overseas to be “recycled” only to have the precious materials stripped from them, leaving behind the non-valuable and often toxic components. These residues pile up and are either burned or simply left. In either case, hazardous materials end up in the environment and can find their way back to us through imported products. Improperly managed electronics were cited as a primary reason for the presence of lead in children’s toys and other products a few years ago.
- The Tri-County CleanWays fee structure is set up to cover approximately half of the cost of the program. PADEP and grant funds make up the other half of the costs. If a profit is realized, it is used as seed money for the next program.
- Costs could be higher. Fortunately, communities realize the need for this type of service and work together with us to help keep the costs as low as possible. Many of our municipalities and organizations help spread the word about the events saving valuable advertising money. And finally, volunteers significantly reduce the cost by eliminating the need for paid contractor staff.
Universal Waste Recycling Options & Notes
- Be wary of some “free” programs, especially programs that will take TV’s and computer monitors for free. These items are expensive to demanufacture and there are limited markets available to recycle them. Materials collected in free programs are often sent illegally overseas.
- You don’t have to wait for a special collection day to recycle your materials. We have a seasonal electronics collection program that runs every other month from April through November. Click here for more information.
- There are also regular programs for some of the universal wastes at: the Lawrence County Courthouse; Brady’s Run Park in Beaver County; Evans City; and Environmental Coordination Services and Recycling, Inc. in Crawford County. Remember that fees will often apply and the types of materials collected at each of these locations vary, so contact us for more information.
- Check our calendar of events page for special collection programs in our area.
- Reuse working equipment by donating it. There are some free programs that will take working computer systems. Goodwill, for example, has a partnership with Dell on a program that will take computers, printers, and peripherals (working or not) for free.