The recycling of electronic waste is reaching new highs every year, mainly because new gadgets are being invented so fast that people just get rid of their old ones.
In 2010, Oregon made it illegal to toss e-waste into landfills, which spurred even more recycling here, and today there are lots of drop spots around Jackson County for e-junk. But because of privacy concerns, none of it actually gets reused in its present form, says Denise Barnes of Rogue Disposal & Recycling.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 2233 S. Pacific Highway, Medford; 541-773-9095. Drop-off computers, monitors, TVs, no fee.
"It all gets refined back into raw materials," says Barnes, who is program director of Jackson County Recycling Partnership. "TVs, computer monitors, computer towers are illegal in landfills. Fax machines and printers are being used less and less, so we're getting more of them dropped off."
The problem of identity theft has left recyclers no option but to "grind it all back into raw materials," she says. "Everything has a hard drive now — printers, faxes — so no one reuses anything, even though a lot of it still works."
Why are people tossing e-gadgets that still work?
Very simple: They keep coming out with more and cooler gadgets, and everyone has to have them, says Curt Spivey, general manager of ECS Refining in Medford.
ECS gets paid to collect and process e-junk via a recycling fee paid by manufacturers. After processing, Spivey says, they sell the raw materials on the market.
Televisions make up 70 percent of all e-waste by weight, Spivey says.
"But now, we're seeing a lot of flat screens, phones and iPads, so the weight of e-waste (per person) is going down, but the device count is going up.
"We see everything coming in now. What were the coolest things three years ago are now garbage. Everyone wants the next greatest thing."
When the "land ban" — no e-waste in landfills — went into effect in January 2010, the tonnage of e-junk skyrocketed, says Barnes. Some 454 tons were dropped at Rogue Disposal in 2010, and it climbed by 243 tons to 697 tons in 2013.
For the county as a whole, e-waste climbed from 932 tons in 2011 to 1,773 tons in 2012, a jump of 841 tons in a year, she adds.
"A lot of it is awareness," Barnes says. "It's stuff they may have been holding on to in the garage or attic, but people are pretty well tuned in now, and they know it's free and that it can't go in the garbage anymore."
The recycling of e-waste in Oregon took a big 27 percent jump in 2010, then steadied off at a 5 to 7 percent annual increase.
Many states don't have land bans like Oregon, so their e-junk still finds its way — with hard drives intact — to toxic e-processing mills in China and Africa, says Spivey.
"An old TV monitor has five pounds of lead in the glass," she says. "It can leach from landfills into the water table, and it exposes workers to horrible conditions."
Spivey says 100 percent of the e-waste they get is processed into raw materials, "and you can't get data from raw materials. Hard drives are the big, scary issue, because data is on everything, and identity theft is so pervasive. We don't mess around with" any e-parts.
In a report to the Legislature, Oregon E-Cycles, a division of the Department of Environmental Quality, reports that 27.7 million pounds of e-waste were recycled in 2013.
Since 2009, it says, the program has saved the equivalent of 14 million gallons of gasoline. The net greenhouse gas reductions equal 141,500 tons of carbon dioxide, or the elimination of 30,500 cars a year.
DEQ, which inspects collection and recycling sites, says the number of collection spots statewide has gone up 37 percent since 2009.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.