Everyone can play role in greener economy

The ability to recycle electronics helps families, businesses, governments, tribes, and non-profits make responsible waste disposal decisions.  It also puts our dollars to work supporting green jobs and re-using precious metals instead of mining for new ones.

When we talk about creating a greener economy in America, thoughts often go towards creating more sustainable energy sources like wind, solar and tidal power.  Often overlooked is another aspect of being green — what to do with all the waste we currently produce?

Since opening an Anchorage branch in 2005, Total Reclaim Inc. has been committed to providing cost-effective, environmentally sound alternatives to landfilling electronics in Alaska. Over the past nine years, Total Reclaim processed more than 12 million pounds of electronics, fluorescent lamps, batteries and household appliances from more than 100 Alaska communities, including Homer. Recycling these materials, rather than landfilling them, benefits everyone in a number of ways — recycling extends the life of landfills, conserves non-renewable natural resources, and prevents potentially hazardous materials from contaminating our environment.

This week in Homer, Total Reclaim will partner with Cook Inletkeeper to host our community’s ninth annual Electronics Recycling Event on Saturday, April 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Spenard Builders Supply.  Since the first Homer event in 2006, more than 130,000 pounds of electronic waste has been kept out of our local landfill, and has contributed to our green economy by supporting local jobs in transportation and logistics and by creating a greener source of raw materials for manufacturers.  

At Cook Inletkeeper’s event, households pay a flat fee of $15 per carload of electronics, which includes up to one computer monitor or small TV. Businesses, schools, and government agencies pay 35 cents per pound, and non-profit organizations and tribes pay 25 cents per pound.  

Why pay to recycle when you can just take these items to the dump? 

Electronics are made up of diverse materials that must be taken apart carefully under controlled conditions before they can be fully and safely recycled. This process is labor intensive and it often requires great care in handling potentially toxic substances. By working with Total Reclaim, we are assured that all recycling is happening responsibly and within the United States, instead of being outsourced to developing countries lacking worker safety and environmental protections.  

Some costs of recycling are offset by the recovery of precious metals within a device, but the company is committed to recycling potentially harmful and lower value materials as well. In general, there aren’t enough valuable materials within electronics to cover the high costs associated with their recycling. 

Recycling fees paid for by individuals and businesses help offset the costs of collecting, storing, and processing of the various materials found in expired electronics. Further, transporting scrap electronics from Alaska to industry hubs where they can be dismantled and recycled adds a significant cost. For electronics to be recycled in a safe and environmentally responsible way, a recycling fee is necessary.

There are plenty of costs that come with taking your electronics to the dump — they just aren’t as obvious. Increased taxes to fund new and expanded landfills and clean-up efforts in the case of leached chemicals are two hidden costs to irresponsibly discarded electronic waste. Only by assuming the cost of your own waste can you ensure that these potentially toxic items do not end up costing everyone more in the long run.

Understanding  the background of doing the right thing is an important part of realizing the many benefits of electronics recycling as a component of a green economy in Alaska, and in the country as a whole. Thanks for doing your part, and see you on Saturday at SBS.

Dorothy Melambianakis works with Cook Inletkeeper on a variety of clean water issues. Reilly Kosinski is the outreach coordinator for Total Reclaim in Alaska.