E-waste costs rise in Knox, Guilderland

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

An Evolution Recycling worker in Guilderland wraps up monitors to be shipped away. 

ALBANY COUNTY — Since January, prices to haul away electronic waste and other household appliances quadrupled at the Knox Transfer Station.

In Guilderland, the price per pound the town pays for discarded television sets has gone from 22 cents last year to 29 cents this year but that added cost has not yet been passed on to residents who still pay $10 to dispose of a TV set.

Both towns use Evolution Recycling for disposing of electronic wastes, which says the increase is due to a broken system for processing e-waste. Meanwhile, the town of Rensselaerville, using a different company, has seen costs to dispose of items like television sets increase by 10 cents per pound.

Electronic waste contains toxic substances like mercury, lead, cadmium, and beryllium, and also contains precious and special metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. The United States does not have an integrated smelter and the vast majority of its e-waste is sent to developing countries where the cost of labor is low and environmental regulations aren’t so stringent.

Three years ago, a number of municipalities in Albany County stopped accepting e-waste, leading to fears residents would dump their electronics illegally. Many manufacturers were meeting the performance standards required by state law part-way through the year and therefore no longer financing the recycling, shifting the financial burden back to local municipalities.

This time, Knox, Guilderland, and Rensselaerville are having problems because of higher costs from vendors while other nearby municipalities are not.

The increased costs — part of an annual contract with the vendors who haul waste from the town transfer station — were discussed at the Jan. 9 Knox Town Board meeting, with Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis warning that the increases were only the beginning.

The board unanimously agreed to sign the contract with two haulers, but decided to wait to charge residents more money to cover the new fees.

Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury said that the two companies are Evolution Recycling, which takes the town’s electronic waste, and JGS, which takes items containing freon like air-conditioners. He said he is still looking at possibly using other vendors.

“We’ve always charged for, like, TVs … they were the most expensive items,” said Salisbury.

The cost for Knox to dispose of things like speakers and headsets was increased from seven cents a pound to 29 cents a pound. The cost for disposal of small appliances saw the same increase, and both computer monitors and television sets saw an increase from 22 cents a pound to 30 cents a pound.

The fees are constantly changing for recycling items, but fees for electronics have had the most dramatic increase, Salisbury said.

David Corey, the foreman at the Guilderland transfer station, said the seven-cent per-pound increase for TV disposal seems minor but it adds up, with the town hauling away about 100,000 pounds of electronic waste last year. He believes it’s possible the town will increase its fees to residents to offset the costs.

Guilderland currently charges residents $10 for each television set, and recycles other electronics for free; the fees do not cover the cost of hauling the waste away, but it does offset the charges, said Corey.

In 2017, the town spent $12,000 to get rid of electronic waste, and in 2018 spent $20,000, said Corey, who expects the cost to increase again this year.

Gary Bishop, president of Evolution Recycling, confirmed that his fees for recycling electronic waste went up, and said that fees have increased for a number of reasons, with the amount his company earns for recycling electronic waste fluctuating. Plastic and metal are worth less, he said, while costs to process them are increasing.  

“We have to protect our end by giving flat-rate numbers to the municipalities, knowing it could go up, it could go down … ,” he said.

Bishop said that Evolution Recycling serves around 30 different municipalities. The company collects the waste, recycles it, and sells the processed materials.

“We do everything full stream … ,” he said. “We are the actual recyclers, so we’re basically closed loop.”

Bishop also noted that manufacturers of electronics are supposed to be responsible for their waste products, but said that the amount that manufacturers must collect is “without any input from the true recyclers.”

“It really puts us in a pinch because we don’t know where we are going to be with the manufacturer,” he later said.

Jon Whitbeck, the town of Rensselaerville’s recycling coordinator, said at a town board meeting on Feb. 14 that the cost of disposing CRTs increased recently from 25 cents to 35 cents per pound and that the recycling company the town uses, EWASTE+, also recently decided to charge the same for other items like flat-screen televisions as well.

Whitbeck said that the town should be able to save money if it pulls other items “out of the waste stream” to recycle them. Last year, Rensselaerville recycled over 4,000 pounds of e-waste but was charged for only a little over half of it for items like CRTs.

Unaffected

Jeffrey Alexander, who tends to the town of Berne transfer station, said that Berne has not been affected because the town uses a different vendor — Advanced Recycling Solutions — except for cathode-ray tubes used in computer and television monitors, which are still taken by Evolution.

Advanced charges seven cents a pound for everything else, said Alexander; he believes the lower cost because Advanced is a new company looking to get customers. In 2017, while still using Evolution, Berne recycled 13 tons of electronics and spent $3,200. Berne took in $970 in fees from residents to recycle televisions; the town charges $10 for each television no matter the size, said Alexander.

Increasing costs of e-waste add onto already increasing fees for garbage and recycling. While Alexander said Berne has not seen dramatic increases in e-waste fees, tipping fees for solid waste are now at $66 a ton and commingled recyclables is now at $55 a ton — down from when it jumped from costing nothing to $120 a ton to haul it away.

Town of Westerlo Highway Superintendent Jody Ostrander, who heads the transfer station, said the Westerlo transfer station has also not been affected very much due to being able to recycle certain items as metal instead of electronic waste. Westerlo also uses Evolution, he said.

Teresa Campana, the New Scotland Highway Department clerk, said that the town just signed a new contract with JGS that offered lower fees to collect electronic waste than previously.

Jason Thompson, president of JGS, said that JGS has not increased fees for freon products, which is 90-percent of the company’s business. For the 10-percent of JGS business that covers e-waste, the company has tried to maintain steady prices despite a fluctuating market.

State law

The United States has no national regulations for recycling e-waste but about half of the states, including New York, have adopted their own laws.

In 2010, New York State passed the Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, which went into effect in 2011 and was expanded to apply to all entities in 2015.  The disposal ban first applied to manufacturers, progressed to retailers, and then to businesses and municipalities, and, finally, as of Jan. 1, 2015, the ban was extended to individuals and households — electronic waste cannot be buried in landfills.

The law requires manufacturers of electronics to recycle e-waste from their own products as well as an item made by another manufacturer for any item the original manufacturer sells in the state in a given year.

In December 2017, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation reported that the new law had diverted more than 520 million pounds of e-waste from landfills between 2011 and 2016. The state has also been administering grants from the Environmental Protection Fund since 2016 to help municipalities cover the costs for collecting and recycling e-waste. For their fourth period of grant funding, DEC is accepting applications until Feb. 28.

But some reports have noted that more could be done. A February 2016 testimony submitted by the New York State Association of Counties to the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation recommended that the threshold for manufacturers to collect electronics be increased, stating that the required amount of electronics a manufacturer must collect does not match the amount of electronic waste being generated.

“Manufacturers have failed to keep up with e-waste being produced in our
Communities,” the testimony says. “Municipalities, therefore, are still facing significant costs to comply with the Act’s e-waste disposal ban.”

Kevin O. Frazier, a spokesman for DEC, in response to the report’s suggestion, told The Enterprise in an email that the formula created by the law has increased the statewide goal from from 93.7 million pounds in 2014 to 102.8 million pounds in 2018. But Frazier said that the formula cannot, and the amount manufacturers must collect cannot, change unless the law is amended, although manufacturers may not stop collecting once the state goal is met.

“Over time, the increase in Statewide Goals for electronic waste collection, enhanced manufacturer engagement in the program, the decline of CRTs from the waste stream, a rebound of commodity prices, and the addition of new outlets for CRT glass material and advances in recycling technologies, will all help lower the cost of managing CRTs and relieve some of the current pressures,” Frazier wrote.

A September 2015 report from the New York State Comptroller’s Office recommended that the Department of Environmental Conservation use necessary enforcement efforts to have electronics manufacturers comply with the law, noting that the DEC had not imposed monetary penalties against manufacturers not following the new law until 2015.

Frazier said that, in the first few years of implementing the law, the DEC focused on educating the various groups involved in electronic waste recycling on the law and being compliant with it. Since 2015, the Frazier wrote, the DEC has increased enforcement efforts, including seeking monetary penalties against manufacturers for violating the law.

This past June, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would start a task force to study e-waste recycling in the state. The law was introduced a year prior by Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. and is currently being reviewed by the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation. In a release about the bill passing the state senate, Addabbo pointed out instances in which the current e-waste law has failed to be effective, such as when manufacturers have refused to accept e-waste or charged high fees.

 

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