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Tampa's recycled electronics find life outside a landfill

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend's father rolled up to my apartment in his white behemoth pickup with an old television he wanted me to trash. Joe's a great guy, but he loves to test my patience with his disregard for conservation.

In the past he has threatened to dump used motor oil in the woods if I didn't take it to an auto parts store. And then there are the endless discussions about how he's going to buy a Hummer and make me ride in it.

So it didn't surprise me when he drove all the way from Palm Harbor to Tampa with that television in the bed.

"Where can I dump this?"

"Dump it?" I repeated emphatically. "You can't dump that, you have to recycle it."

"Okay, recycle it for me then," he said.

No problem, I thought. I take pride in my unrequited love for recycling. Knowing this was a terrible thing to let fester in a landfill, I took it.

Then it dawned on me. Where can I dump this?

Most people would put it in with the rest of their trash — basically throwing away about 4 pounds of lead, some mercury and even cadmium, which is dangerous stuff.

Maybe it's lack of insight. In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated our used or unwanted electronics amounted to 2-million tons of trash. Of that, only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled.

I guess a lot of people don't know that the county hosts hazardous waste and recycling

drop-offs the first three Saturdays of each month and the city does them twice a year in April and October.

I didn't know it either.

Both have contracts with Creative Recycling Systems, an electronics recycling company since 1994.

After residents drop off their junk — or e-scrap as they call it in the business — the county and city pay Creative to properly dispose of it. Large televisions cost the governments $7 each, small ones cost $5, monitors ring in at $3 and miscellaneous electronics cost 25 cents.

Nina Stokes, the city's recycling coordinator, said recycling electronics can cost Tampa $20,000 to $30,000 for one day of disposal.

From there it's fed to David, Creative's gigantic shredding, pulverizing and sorting machine.

CEO and founder John Yob named the machine after the biblical story involving the miniscule man versus Goliath. David can rip about 24,000 pounds of recyclables per hour, or about 800 monitors. Video monitors, scales and computerized logic controllers shred the electronics, separating glass, plastics and metals like gold and copper into designated bins.

The precious metals are shipped to Europe, where a refining company buys and breaks them down. Creative then pays a company in China to take the plastics, where it is then used to make more electronics.

Creative also pays a refining company in the United States to melt down the glass. Lastly, the steel is sold to scrap yards. By the end of the process, our junk is recycled back into the market as new toys.

Yob said nearly 100 percent of the 50-million pounds of electronics he gets each year is recycled.

"It's important to show people there is a solution," he said. "This is not a waste of time."

County and city drop-off sites are for residents, and don't take businesses' waste. But Creative and other companies like Global Investment Recovery do. David Ritter, who owns Global, says he has one of the largest electronics recycling businesses in the Southeast, specializing in secure shredding.

"We act as a shield from litigation to our clients," he said.

Ritter estimates his facilities recycle about 80-million pounds a year. Most times companies sell their junk to him but they will seek out pieces that can produce a nice revenue. The day I show up he has workers disassembling the last of 320,000 scanners he purchased.

"If we know there's a value, we pay for that metal," he said.

He and Yob said TVs are relatively costly to dispose of due to low amounts of precious metals.

Which brings me back to my original quandary: What to do with Joe's television?

I wish I had known everything I just told you before I did what I did. All I knew back then was that I couldn't put it in the trash. So I decided to recycle it in a different way: I donated it to a thrift store.

Just remember, one man's trash is another man's new television.

Eric Smithers can be reached at esmithers@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3339.

>>fast facts

Q&A

Where do I recycle

my electronics?

Hillsborough County and Tampa residents can dispose of their household chemicals and electronics from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Northwest facility at 9805 Sheldon Road on the first Saturday of the month, the South County facility at Powell Road, east of US 41 on the second Saturday of the month and the East County facility in Thonotosassa on the third Saturday of the month.

What can I bring?

Paint, solvents, pool chemicals, hobby and craft supplies, lawn and garden chemicals, computers, stereos, televisions and other miscellaneous electronics.

What am I NOT

allowed to bring?

Old smoke detectors, biohazardous waste like needles and radioactive materials. Commercial drop-offs are not accepted.

Who can I call

for more information?

The Hillsborough County Solid Waste Department at 272-5680 or visit

www.hillsboroughcounty.org/solidwaste.

Tampa's recycled electronics find life outside a landfill 08/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 10:21am]
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