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No dumping this: What to do with electronic and hazardous waste

Dead monitors, old cellphones, televisions and keyboards, printers that don't work – everybody has a closet or a corner of the basement with a supply of old electronic equipment. Some of it might be next to those old paint cans and half-empty cans of pesticide and pool supplies.

It's the stuff you either can't throw away legally or don't want to wind up polluting Lake Erie.

So what do you do with it?

A few municipalities in Erie County allow residents to drop off electronic waste daily for recycling. A couple others offer "drop-off" events for their residents.

But most of the county relies on large free drop-off events that take place several times a year. Erie County holds two hazardous waste drop-offs every year, and state legislators often sponsor electronic recycling events in conjunction with a private company. There also are private companies that will take the waste, usually for a fee.

Electronic waste can be recycled

It has been illegal since 2015 to put electronic waste in the garbage in New York State. The legislation was passed just before State Sen. Patrick Gallivan took office. He said he sponsors the free electronic drop-offs to help the environment.

"Many people don’t have a place to get rid of it," he said. "It's providing a good service to our community."

The state legislator's office helps coordinate the site and gets the word out, usually by sending postcards to constituents and postings on social media. A volunteer group usually helps out on the day for a contribution from the company, he said.

The drop-offs attract hundreds of people with lines of cars snaking around the venue. And while workers are well-organized, the lines can be long. The events have become so popular that Sunnking, a recycling company that holds 30 events in the state each year, announces it may stop collecting before the scheduled end of an event if its trailers are filled with electronics.

The events fill a need, but Gallivan said: "I can't see this as the long-term answer."

Recycled material used to be more valuable, and the cost of taking it apart to reach the valuable material was lower, said Paul Kranz, an associate engineer in the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning.

"The economics have changed," he said. "Electronic recycling has turned into an expense as opposed to a revenue stream."

That means fewer taxpayer-funded "free" recycling opportunities, but there are several private companies that will recycle electronics and dispose of household hazardous waste for a fee. The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning lists them on its recycling web pages.

Hazman performs drop-off events for household hazardous waste and electronic waste. The company also allows waste to be dropped off at its location at 177 Wales Ave. in the Town of Tonawanda, and will pick up waste for a fee. Sunnking holds electronics drop-off events and has various locations where they can be dropped off, including Goodwill Industries of Western New York – but not televisions or monitors. Televisions are particularly difficult. If a television is broken, the cost of disposing it goes up.

"Most municipalities will fine you these days if you put a television out," said Gary Correll, solid waste recycling specialist for Erie County.

Best Buy and Hazman will take television sets for a fee.

What about household hazardous waste?

Erie County pays about $50,000 for each of the two hazardous household waste drop-offs it sponsors each year, and that's after New York State helps pay half the cost. There were more than 1,000 vehicles at the last event, Kranz said.

Hundreds of motorists lined up to dispose of questionable waste from their homes. The Erie County Department of Environment & Planning, in cooperation with the Northwest and Northeast Southtowns Solid Waste Management Boards, hosted the household hazardous waste collection day Aug. 11 at the Erie Community College North Campus. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

What is turned in? Tens of thousands of gallons of paint – cobwebs and rust included – as well as pesticides and oil. But there also are a lot of items that aren't hazardous, like water.

"We've had distilled water dropped off," said Paul Kranz, an associate engineer with Erie County's Environment and Planning Department.

A lot of latex paint comes in, and that's not hazardous, either. Latex paint can be dried out with kitty litter and placed in the regular garbage. It's the oil-based paint that needs careful disposal.

But some of the waste turned in at drop-off events is dangerous, and crews need to be trained to handle it safely.  The county never knows what will be turned in. One time someone submitted a Joy liquid dishwashing soap container full of mercury, Carrel said.

"Every trunk is Christmas," Kranz said. "You want to dispose of this material properly to protect environment and household safety."

He said it would be difficult for Erie County to operate a full-time drop-off location like Monroe County's EcoPark in Rochester because Erie County does not have a landfill like Monroe County does.

"If we are going to have a permanent site, we have to have permanent funding," Kranz said. "The last thing you want to do is construct a permanent site without having a revenue source to pay for it."

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