Haul of America

Minnesota holds largest U.S. e-waste event.

David Kutoff, CEO for Eagan, Minn.-based e-waste recycling firm Materials Processing Corporation (MPC), says he was initially surprised at the number of people eager to rid themselves of a once state-of-the-art computer or other previously coveted electronics. “It was pretty substantial,” he says.

Beginning on Nov. 15 — America Recycles Day — those people lined up to take part in the country's largest e-waste collection project, the Great Minnesota eCycling Event. For three days, the public was invited to drop off e-waste free of charge at the nation's largest shopping mall, Minneapolis' Mall of America.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 1.9 million tons of outdated electronics ended up in landfills in 2005. Only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled. “There are numerous places in Minneapolis — and Minnesota overall — that are available to drop off your electronics, and a lot them happen to be for free as well,” says Kutoff. “People just don't know anything about [these resources], which is an issue. Part of our goal [for] this event was to create overall awareness about electronics recycling and that there are places to get that stuff done.”

So, on “Green Thursday” (a nudge at “Black Friday”), the event kicked off, drawing hundreds of participants. Teams of workers helped unload, categorize and pack e-waste for shipment. Kutoff says some of the discarded devices dated back to the 1960s. After dropping off their items, participants were provided with e-waste recycling information and a few shopping discounts.

Expecting to collect only a few thousand pounds of e-waste, organizers were astonished by the massive response to the event. At one point, traffic entering the mall was backed up for at least two miles. Kutoff says crowds were so substantial on the second day that organizers were forced to turn some people away.

“I was really amazed at the amount of time and dedication of some of these people to actually wait on line to get rid of something as small as a DVD player,” Kutoff says. “It was very encouraging that people here are that conscious of the environment that they never threw the stuff out.”

Kutoff estimates that 1.2 million to 1.5 million pounds of electronics were collected at the event, filling 86 trucks. All items were sent for processing at MPC's facility, which touts its “No Landfill” policy. Kutoff says the amount of waste collected is a good indication of the need for more e-waste recycling drop off sites. “[Organizing] these events on a regular basis or [making them] just a little bit more localized for people is definitely a need. But I think what it creates is awareness,” he says.