MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Piles of old televisions, computers, radios and other discarded electronic equipment just keep growing at the township Public Works yard off Mechanic Street.
The electronics usually fit into a small trailer before getting picked up by a company that recycles them, Magnum Computer Recycling in Camden County. But the pile now extends some 60 feet past the trailer with no immediate plans for pickup. Magnum’s John Marcortorano stopped collecting the items because he has no room for them.
The problem, which has electronics being stockpiled all over New Jersey, is that manufacturers, who are required by a 2011 state law to pay for the recycling of what is known as “e-waste,” are not fully funding the program, officials said.
“I have over 600,000 pounds of it stockpiled in three warehouses,” Marcortorano said. “The program needs to be funded properly. This is a dirty, ugly secret going on.”
The situation has resulted in Cape May County informing the county’s 16 mayors it will terminate its electronic waste program as of July 1.
“We’re trying to give the municipalities time to come up with a plan,” said John Baron, solid waste program manager for the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority. “The program has become way too costly. It’s costing us $140 a ton to pick up electronics.”
A state law that took effect Jan. 1, 2011, required manufacturers of electronics to fund the recycling with no charge to the public. They initially seemed to keep up their end of the bargain.
“However, starting in the later part of 2013, the manufacturers have refused to fund the recycling operation and the state has taken no action to enforce the act,” Baron said.
Cape May County’s decision to stop e-waste recycling has left municipalities wondering what to do. Some currently pick up the waste from residents and hold it until the county MUA picks it up from them. Officials in West Cape May debated the subject at a meeting last week. Borough Commissioner Carol Sabo said e-waste has environmental impacts, but you can’t tell retailers such as Apple and Samsung not to sell their products here.
“It’s going to impact everybody,” Sabo said.
By state law, electronics must be recycled. They contain toxic materials, including mercury, lead and other heavy metals, so they are not allowed in landfills and residents cannot discard them in their curbside trash.
That’s why Middle Township Public Works Superintendent Rob Flynn keeps accepting them even though the pile just keeps getting larger.
“If you don’t pick it up, it will end up on the side of the road somewhere and you’ll pick it up anyway,” Flynn said.
Cumberland County is still collecting e-waste three times a year on household hazardous waste days, but the rest of the year it tells people to take their items back to the stores where they purchased them, or if they still work, to Goodwill.
Atlantic County used to charge people to drop off electronics and this paid for recycling. But Atlantic County Recycling Coordinator Gary Conover said the state law outlawed charges and now there is no collection program. They advise residents to drop electronics off at Goodwill or stores such as Best Buy. Some municipalities still collect the items.
“The intent of the (state) program was good. It was all the details,” Conover said.
Ocean County has been through four electronic recyclers since the state law passed and now has one under contract through August, the county’s director of solid waste management, Ernest Kuhlwein, said. There used to be charges for dropping off electronics, and, he said, he would not be surprised to see that return.
“The law required it at no cost to homeowners and that’s changing as we talk. At some point, the state has to get involved. The whole idea was municipalities and counties would collect it at no cost and it would be recycled. Maybe they have to change the law,” Kuhlwein said.
West Cape May Attorney Frank Corrado urged the Borough Commission to lobby state lawmakers to come up with a viable program for collection and disposal of e-waste. Sabo said she would take the lead in getting other municipalities involved in the effort.
Baron said the state Department of Environmental Protection is attempting to find a solution but one “does not appear imminent.” Marcortorano said the law is flawed and “the DEP is powerless” to force changes.
Bob Considine, a spokesman for the DEP, said the agency is in discussions with recyclers, manufacturers and the affected counties.
“Additionally, manufacturer collection plans are due soon and we will be reviewing these shortly, approving only those that ensure proper and responsible end-of-life handling of these materials,” said Considine.
The state law, Considine noted, does not address the financial arrangement between manufacturers and recyclers. This appears to be a problem.
Marcortorano, of Magnum Computer Recycling, noted he used to get 6 cents a pound from manufacturers for collecting e-waste, but they no longer pay this and it has slashed his profit margin.
The biggest problem is televisions. With computers, the metals in circuit boards are valuable to recyclers, giving those items more value. But televisions are heavy with glass, especially in the cathode ray tubes, or CRTs.
Marcortorano said eight counties in New Jersey are stockpiling electronic waste and 87 percent of it is televisions.
Considine said the CRT market crashed last year because the only CRT recycler in the U.S. closed and now the only facility that recycles them is in India. The CRT glass is slowly moving to India but demand is down.
Considine said abandoned warehouses full of CRT glass have been found in several other states, but not in New Jersey.
A secondary problem is the few valuable metals in the televisions are often scavenged before they get to a recycling facility.
“The scrappers are a big problem,” said Marcortorano. “They break off the back of the TV and pull out the copper. That TV is now leaking beryllium, lead and mercury into the environment and the manufacturer then says it’s no longer a recyclable item.”
This further shrinks the already-thin profit margin on televisions.
Considine said the DEP is increasing the recycling obligation by manufacturers in 2014 by 13 percent, from 49.2 million pounds to 55.7 million pounds. It is also increasing the amount of this material that must come from televisions and computers from 65 percent to 75 percent.
It remains unclear how this will work, but Baron said “forcing some chaos” may force manufacturers to get more serious. Considine said it may force their hand.
“Ultimately, much of how this plays out may be up to the manufacturers. As counties consider ceasing the collection of e-waste, it would force them to fully operate the programs at their own expense,” Considine said.
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