It's 11 a.m. on a recent Saturday and more than a dozen people are in line to drop off old televisions, computers, paint and household chemicals.
Anthony Sullivan is grilling chicken for his crew. He knows they'll be hungry. Unloading dinosaur TVs all day long builds a sweat.
The people have come to Hillsborough County's disposal site off Interstate 4 to recycle their unwanted electronics and chemicals that can't be put out with their trash. Between all the holiday gifts and New Year's resolutions to get organized, this time of year is always busy at electronics and household chemical collection sites. This year it's even busier, since many TVs will become obsolete on Feb. 17 when stations switch from analog to digital broadcasting.
"It's been a mad rush to get rid of TVs,'' said Sullivan, who runs Hillsborough's collection sites.
This fall, Sullivan had to double his staff because the lines got so long. In September, 50 people were waiting at 7 a.m. when the county's Sheldon Road site opened.
Hillsborough, like many local governments, sponsors electronics and chemical disposal days three Saturdays a month. The service is free to anyone living in Hillsborough County.
The county contracts with Creative Recycling Systems in Tampa to break down and recycle the materials, from the precious metals to the plastics. The household chemicals go to EQ Florida, which ships them to disposal sites nationwide.
Hillsborough collected 806,660 pounds of electronics in 2008, up from 661,200 pounds in 2007. In December alone, it collected 118,740 pounds, nearly double the amount from previous December.
To accommodate the anticipated influx of analog TVs, the city has scheduled an electronics-only collection day on Jan. 10. Officials already have started seeing more TVs dumped illegally in alleys and along roads, said Tonja Brickhouse, director of Tampa's Solid Waste Department.
Cathode ray tubes in analog sets contain 4 to 8 pounds of lead. When sets are discarded improperly, the lead and other chemicals can leach into the ground, polluting groundwater.
An estimated 163,000 households in Tampa Bay may lose television next month when broadcasts convert to digital. If even a small percentage of those people discard their old TVs — rather than get a converter box or subscribe to cable or satellite TV — the impact could be huge.
Television manufacturers have been working with waste companies to ensure as many of those TVs are recycled. Sony, for example, offers free TV recycling for residents and businesses through Waste Management. In Tampa Bay, owners of Sony TVs can take them to Quicksilver Recycling Services, 1102 N Rome Ave. in Tampa.