The New E-waste Landscape
More options for obsolete electronics
Ann Arborites gain new options for getting rid of those old TVs.
Hot tickets or Black Friday sale items are usually the reasons behind lengthy customer queues. But drivers whose cars snaked slowly through the Pioneer High School parking lot back in April were seeking something else: free disposal of their unwanted or obsolete electronics.
As fast-moving workers pulled five behemoth CRT televisions from a single SUV, the driver was saving about $100 compared to the fee he would have paid at Recycle Ann Arbor's Drop-Off Station on Ellsworth. But he was already an anachronism in Ann Arbor's changing e-waste landscape.
"We've been seeing a downward shift in the volume of electronics over the last two years," says Barbara Hagan of the U-M Office of Campus Sustainability, which hosts the annual free "E-Waste Recycling Event" with support from Apple and in partnership with Ann Arbor Public Schools. Hagan says that 2,480 vehicles dropped off 206 tons of electronics this year, down from 3,268 vehicles and 220 tons in 2012. "It's because people have cleaned out their basements of the TVs with big heavy monitors, and all electronics are getting smaller," Hagan says. "We also recognize that people are using other options."
Recycle Ann Arbor recently simplified its fees to properly dispose of electronics delivered to its Drop-Off Station and to Calvert's Roll-Off Containers on Jackson Road. The nonprofit's ReUse Center on South Industrial Highway also accepts some electronics without a fee but "no TVs or printers," cautions general manager Becky Andrews. (She suggests those hoping to drop off electronics call ahead before making the trip.) Best Buy and Staples also accept some electronics at no charge. And last year, Habitat for Humanity's ReStore on Jackson Rd. began accepting e-waste seven days a week, gratis-while simultaneously earning a little money to support its affordable housing mission.
In the past, "we didn't take in electronics," says Sarah Stanton, the ReStore's executive director of development. "It's not what we do, but Habitat Michigan hooked
us up with Vintage Tech about a year and half ago."
A private company headquartered in Romeoville, Illinois, outside Chicago, Vintage Tech supplies the ReStore with a fifty-three-foot trailer, pallets, and boxes to hold donated electronics. While several local nonprofits-the Kiwanis Thrift Sale, the Share House, and St. Vincent de Paul among them-accept only a few kinds of electronics (think clock radios), the partnership with Vintage Tech allows the ReStore to accept almost everything.
Vic Whipple, the ReStore's director, says it's now filling a trailer every two to three weeks. At that point, "we call them, and they bring a new supply trailer out. They used to take the trailer to Illinois, but in April they opened a facility in Canton where everything goes now. Our take from each truckload fluctuates from $275 to $300. It's not a ton of revenue for us, but it generates customers and diverts electronics from landfills."
Vintage Tech also picks up e-waste from other Washtenaw County organizations and cities, notably Recycle Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Public Schools, Eastern Michigan University, and the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. And ReStore isn't the only one receiving income from donors' dated computers and other electronics.
"It's fair to say we work out some revenue return to schools and nonprofit organizations," says Steve Chalker, the general manager of Vintage Tech's Canton facility. "The details are contractual. The amount we pay depends on the volume, type of material, and distance [for pickup]."
The U-M's Hagan says she's not alarmed to see a drop in volume at annual collections at Pioneer-having more year-round donation options is a good thing. The event will be held again next spring. "There's nothing but thumbs up and smiles as people drop off their equipment and drive away," she laughs.
[Originally published in August, 2013.]