Free recycling is nice, but cheap is OK, too

If the traffic jams around Apache Mall on Friday and Saturday are any indication, an awful lot of people have been waiting for a chance to recycle their old computer monitors, CPUs, VCRs, printers and other electronic devices — without paying a nickel.

This event, sponsored by Waste Management, Sony, IBM, Rochester Service Co. and Apache Mall, was well-organized and efficient, but lines of cars stretched out well beyond the mall. Police were directing traffic, but on Saturday 16th Street Southwest still was clogged with cars, to the point that drivers exiting U.S. 52 had to wait on the ramp.

That’s what happens when 6,700 drivers unload more than a half-million pounds of worn-out electronics.

We’re glad to see so many people are interested in doing the right thing. These devices can contain lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxic substances, and clearly the message is getting through to people that they shouldn’t just sneak them into their garbage bins and hope no one notices. And every device that went onto a semi-trailer last weekend is one that won’t end up in a ditch or dumped on someone’s junk pile.

But really, there’s little need to hoard your old electronics in anticipation of an event like this, then wait in line, burning gasoline at $3.45 per gallon.


On Monday morning, a member of the Post-Bulletin’s editorial board took a VCR and an ink-jet printer to the Olmsted County Recycling Center. There was no line, and after the items were quickly weighed, he paid $2.40 and was on his way. The entire transaction took about 3 minutes.

As recently as Feb. 10, the bill would have been more than triple that amount, because on Feb. 11, rates for recycled e-waste dropped from 35 cents per pound to 10 cents per pound. This dramatic price drop is the result of a "producer responsibility law" that went into effect in Minnesota on July 1, 2007.

This first-in-the-nation law set quotas for electronics manufacturers. In a nutshell, the more TVs, DVD players and fax machine companies sell in Minnesota, the more they have to collect for recycling.

Scott Martin, waste abatement manager for Olmsted County, said it took some time to get things rolling, but now consumers are reaping the benefits.

"We’ve seen a little increase in the amount of e-waste coming in, and a lot of people who’ve used us before are coming in now and being very pleasantly surprised," he said.

Olmsted County has an agreement with a recycling company that pays 2 cents per pound for e-waste. That company has deals with electronics manufacturers, which need a certain number of Covered Electronic Device Pounds credits — think of it as a cap-and-trade system for toxic e-waste. And if a company comes up short in its recycling efforts, it will pay fines.

That means manufacturers of electronic products are competing for e-waste credits, which could be a boon for consumers.

"Once this first year goes by we’re going to have a good indication of what the market price is for our e-waste," Martin said. The more companies need recycling credits, the less consumers will pay in end-of-use costs. "Our goal is to get it down to where we can offer this service for free," he said.


And, as this weekend’s event indicates, "free" is an important concept to a lot of people.

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