By Laura Katauskas | Bugle Staff
Keeping up with the accumulative costs of electronic recycling is taking a toll on Will County and its governing agencies.
When Will County’s electronics recycler ended its contract unexpectedly at the end of 2015, the trickle down effect forced the closing of recycling centers in most towns throughout Will County.
In the past, 13 municipalities in Will County served as electronic drop-off centers, including Bolingbrook, Channahon Township, Forest Preserve District of Will County—Laraway in Joliet and Monee Reservoir, Godley Park District, Homer Glen, Lockport, Manhattan, Mokena, New Lenox, Romeoville, Troy Township Highway Department, and Washington Township/Beecher.
That number dropped to four by the end of 2015. And by February, all centers were closed.
Agencies across the state saw it coming, as recycling centers couldn’t keep up with the demand.
Marta Keane, Will County recycling specialist, explains that electronic recycling was first introduced in 2008. At that time, the Illinois Recycling Association estimated that each person generated 7 pounds of electronic weight, yet a goal of only 3 pounds person was set for manufacturers required by law to reuse or recycle a percentage of the total weight of devices sold in Illinois.
Manufacturers of electronic equipment are expected to reach a goal of 50 percent of whatever they sold two years prior. To avoid a penalty, manufacturers generally pay third-party recyclers that also accept waste collected by other entities, including counties and municipalities. With growing amounts of electronic waste, manufacturer payments are not enough to fully recuperate recycling and hauling costs, forcing local governments and taxpayers to make up the difference.
Lawmakers changed the legislation last year, upping the weight to 4 pounds.
However, this still wasn’t enough, according to Keane.
Meanwhile markets for recyclable materials began to drop dramatically, making it less attractive for manufacturers.
Keane continued to explain that the county was working with Vintage Tech recycling who initially had a great relationship with many forward-thinking manufacturers. However, Vintage Tech was bought out by a new company, Kuusakoski, which used different procedures for recycling CRT glass – a – complicated process and one that manufacturers reportedly didn’t like.
According to Keane, Vintage Tech was once able to get one-third of the weight by manufacturers, and now ended up getting zero. It was then in 2015 that Vintage Tech, now Kuusakoski, was unable to stay in business, terminating its contract; thus forcing the closing of the county’s recycling centers.
The county was without any open centers for two months in March and April.
Towns such as Bolingbrook, opted to work with its waste management company, Groot, and offered curbside electronic recycling beginning June 1. The village had budgeted $100,000 for the expense in its 2015-16 budget.
Plainfield and Beecher have offered similar programs at a cost ranging from $6 to $15 a year tacked on to resident’s waste pick-up bills.
Romeoville Village Manager Steve Gulden said the village is discussing options with Waste Management and exploring different alternatives.
The county has since entered into a new contract with recycler ERI, which is based in Indiana, and may have a new alternative. Electronic recycling in the county began again in May, however, it is a much-reduced version with a different level of service. Essentially the recycler just provides a 53-foot trailer and sanitization wrap. The center is responsible for manning, sorting and packaging any recyclables.
One facility is now open with reduced hours from 6 to 11 a.m., Tuesday through Friday at Lockport Public Works, 17112 Prime Blvd. All Will County residents, who must show a valid ID, can drop off recyclables.
In addition, the latest discussion involves using a third-party vendor to run a two hour collection drive twice a month in a community. So far, the Peotone Police Department and village of New Lenox have signed up for the program.
Keane said individual villages can choose which days to have a collection, either on a day in the first and third or second and fourth weeks of the month. Basing on the fact that Lockport, which sees customers from all over Will County, sees about 100 cars per five hour period, she believes having these collection days would suffice any community’s recycling needs.
“This would be a great way to do it without charging residents,” said Keane. “Basically we need to rebuild the whole system with limited labor.”