April 2006

Landfill of North Iowa takes electronics disposal seriously

Residents of North Iowa spoke and the Landfill of North Iowa listened. According to Bill Rowland, director at the landfill, business owners and residents frequently contacted the landfill asking for assistance and direction for recycling e-waste. E-waste, also known as “brown goods,” refers to electronic equipment that is no longer usable or wanted. It encompasses a broad and growing range of electronic devices, including computers, TVs, cellular phones and personal stereos.

Today, when an electronic item breaks, it is often perceived to be more cost-effective to discard it and replace it with a new, more modern item instead of having it repaired and this trend will only increase.

This opens the possibility of environmental problems. A typical monitor with a cathode ray tube (CRT) can have up to seven pounds of lead in the glass. Landfills are designed to collect and remove potential hazards before they have an opportunity to contaminate the environment, but the possibility of contamination still exists. Because of the lead in the monitors, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified CRTs as hazardous waste. While it is illegal for any business to dispose of a CRT in the landfill, residents are exempt from the hazardous waste rule. This exemption causes confusion and possibly illegal disposal of CRTs.

To help reduce this confusion, the Landfill of North Iowa Board, along with input from the Landfill’s staff, started the permanent “e-cycling” program. This provided all customers of the Landfill of North Iowa’s service area an economical and convenient opportunity to recycle e-waste. In November of 2005, the Landfill Board unanimously voted to ban burying any TV, monitor or other device containing a CRT. This proactive ban was one of the first in the state of Iowa. Not only did it make good sense, but according to Rowland, “The landfill board felt that it is only a matter of time before the EPA or the IDNR will be developing rules to restrict or eliminate the practice burying of e-waste.”

In the first six months of operation, the new ecycling program has been a success with residents and businesses alike. North Iowans have ecycled more than 75,000 pounds of e-waste through this program so far.

All electronics collected through this program are organized by landfill staff and shipped to Midwest Electronic Recovery (MER) in Walford, Iowa, where all electronics are repaired, reused, or recycled. Because of this, only a very small percentage of material is actually landfilled. MER is the only permitted CRT recycler in the state of Iowa.


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