Tompkins County sees increase in electronic waste

Some 334 tons of electronics, ranging from household appliances to computers, were disposed of in 2012 in the Tompkins County area. This number represents an increase of 55 percent from the previous year, said Leo Riley, recycling manager at the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division.

The increase in electronics has also affected operations at React Recycling, a large processing facility in Elmira, N.Y, said React Recycling President Skip Starr. React’s facility, which has the largest hard drive shredder in New York State, routinely dismantles and sorts the components of hard drives, processing 3,000 to 5,000 hard drives in a year.

“More and more people want to get rid of their data and don’t have access to a machine like this,” he said.

However, Starr said React Recycling’s facilities has enough space to handle four times the amount without an issue.

“We’re trying to stay on top of it by recycling a lot of the other electronics,” he said. “We’re trying to keep everything we can from heading to the landfill.”

The need to discard electronics could eventually be a growing problem, said Marty Schreiber, who instructs the Computer Technology Program at the Finger Lakes ReUse eCenter.

“Literally millions of computers are discarded every year in the world and a substantial number in the States,” he said. “If they all went to the landfill, there’d be no room left tomorrow.”

This is one of the reasons Finger Lakes ReUse, an Ithaca nonprofit that collects and sells old furniture and building supplies, established their eCenter three years ago. According to the eCenter, 70 tons of reusable electronics will be diverted from waste streams each year.

Diane Cohen, executive director at Finger Lakes ReUse, said the center receives 30 to 60 computers per month. Of that number, they are able to refurbish approximately 40 to 60 percent of the donations. The remainder is salvaged for reusable parts.

Cohen said their sales have doubled since the eCenter started three years ago. Last year, the Finger Lakes ReUse eCenter sold 274 computers.

“This is still a young program and we expect significant growth to continue,” she said.

Usually five to 10 refurbished computers are on sale at a time. Prices range from $45 to $375, Cohen said.

“There’s a backlog only because we get so many donations and we can’t sell as many as quickly,” Schreiber said. “But the turnover rate on that is if we had time and we could bring it over in the morning, we could have it on the floor tomorrow for sale.”

In addition to the eCenter’s six regular staff and volunteer members, Schreiber trains high school students to refurbish this technology as part of the Computer Technology Program.

Students, like Zach Spott, 16, of Trumansburg, meet from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. twice a week to replace hardware and basic software, and install basic operating systems.

Spott said he started working with Schreiber after hearing about the program from Charles O. Dickerson High School’s learning lab, which pairs students with their interests.

“I just like computers and fixing stuff,” Spott said. “Everything’s got something wrong with it.”

Schreiber said the increase in donated computers has given his students an opportunity to better learn these skills.

Refurbishing these machines is a practical decision, Schreiber said. But technology-refurbishing hubs, like the eCenter, are becoming vital.

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“This is essential to recycling reusable materials: tin, plastic, wires, metals, and computers themselves,” he said. “We give life to these computers and give them out to the community at a very reasonable price, that they can use them for another four or five years.”