RECYCLING: The Little State that Could

It's not surprising that Rhode Islanders gobble up the latest electronic gizmos, but you've got to give them credit: Last year, residents broke records recycling their e-waste.

Many residents, in fact, waited 45 minutes at collection events hosted by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. to turn in their old fax machines, computers, monitors, televisions, etc., for recycling or refurbishing.

Resource Recovery, a nonprofit, quasi-public agency based in Johnston, R.I., funds and manages the state's recycling program. Last year, the agency decided to recover old electronics because it realized e-waste was a rapidly growing component of the solid waste stream.

To begin the pilot program, Resource Recovery gathered collection and recycling price quotes from four New England electronics recyclers. Prices varied by the pound; number of pieces; material, such as recycling only cathode ray tubes (CRTs); and for heavy lifting.

Eventually, Resource Recovery chose CRT Recycling Inc., Raynham, Mass., because it only charged $0.15 per pound for non-video graphic array (VGA) and non-super video graphic array (SVGA) monitors, inoperable or screen-burnt monitors and television sets. The company also did not charge for peripherals such as VGA monitors, zip drives, mouse components, disks, keyboards and computer manuals. And, for only $180, CRT provided two 33-foot trailers.

To gauge the community's willingness to recycle, Resource Recovery held two pilot collections on successive Saturdays in Nov. 2000, promoting the event through local television and radio station websites, as well as on Internet bulletin boards. The staff also e-mailed local community leaders, with program details and encouraged them to spread the word.

Additionally, $38,000 in radio advertising was purchased. Station deejays promoted the campaign for two weeks and donated sporting event tickets, movie passes and restaurant gift certificates to program participants. To obtain more media coverage, the programs were promoted in conjunction with America Recycles Day. Press releases also were sent to local print media, which resulted in dozens of newspaper articles about the program.

To the Resource Recovery staff's amazement, the pilot drew hundreds of families. At the second six-hour collection pilot, 3 miles of cars snaked through a city park, eventually spilling onto a highway off-ramp as residents waited in line to recycle. Approximately 147,000 pounds of electronics equipment was collected and 11 33-foot trailers were needed to remove the materials. Residents traveled from all over the state, according to the agency.

“This is a low-cost, effective program that diverts a significant volume of waste that was previously landfilled … We are pleased that we can offer the service for free … especially when the only other option for recycling computers is to mail them back to manufacturers for $30.”

“[The program] definitely struck a chord among our residents,” says Sherry G. Mulhearn, Resource Recovery's executive director. “[They] parted with a lot of money to purchase the equipment new and were reluctant to just throw it away.”

Total collection costs proved to be minimal at $6,450. The program was free to residents because costs were subsidized by tipping fees at Resource Recovery's 4,000 tons per day (tpd) landfill.

Because of its residents' enthusiastic support, the agency also decided to establish a permanent electronics recycling program. Resource Recovery added a collection container at its facility where residents already bring in solid waste, recyclables, tires, motor oil, and automotive and NiCad batteries.

So far in 2001, the agency has collected 17,000 pounds of electronics at its drop-off site, and CRT Recycling's rates have not changed.

“This is a low-cost, effective program that diverts a significant volume of waste that was previously landfilled,” Mulhearn says. “We are pleased that we can offer the service for free,” she adds, “especially when the only other option for recycling computers is to mail them back to manufacturers for $30.”