recycling: Old Electronic Equipment Worth its Weight in Gold

Jim Glavin and Eric Smith spend their days looking for gold in Carol Stream, Ill. A Chicago suburb may seem like an unlikely location for their search, but Glavin and Smith aren't typical miners. They are searching for precious metals in electronic equipment that otherwise might be landfilled, to give them new life through recycling.

Metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium can be retrieved from printed circuit assemblies and the connector ends of cables in computers, telephone systems and other electronic equipment, says Glavin, operations manager for United Recycling Industries Inc., Carol Stream, III.

"A ton of printed circuit boards can yield up to 10 ounces of gold," he says. "However, if the computer is newer, usually it's much lower."

United Recycling's goal is to recycle large quantities of medical, telecommunications, analytical and computer equipment, while providing its customers, primarily original equipment manufacturers (OEM), added value for unwanted items.

United Refining and Smelting, a sister company in Franklin Park, Ill., has been in the precious metal refining business for 50 years. Twenty years ago, United Recycling began demanufacturing mainframes for OEMs. "We got into the PC market, starting with integrated circuits first," says Bob Glavin, United Recycling's president. "The natural progression was to [demanufacture and recycle] the rest [of the equipment's components]."

Truckloads of equipment from client companies arrive daily at the Carol Stream facility, creating an input feed of roughly 4 million to 5 million pounds per year. Of that, Bob Glavin says, 60 percent to 70 percent is iron, steel or ferrous metal. Plastic comprises 20 percent to 25 percent. The balance is precious metals.

Once equipment is received, it is inventoried and audited in a 30,000-square-foot warehouse. Then, depending on each client's contractual agreement, items either are resold to secondary markets or broken down into components.

Once disassembled, the equipment is sorted for further processing. Steel, copper and aluminum are sold to local mills. Precious metal bearing scrap is sent to United Refining. Integrated circuits are sent to another sister company, Universal Integrated Circuits Inc., located at the Carol Stream site. Each demanufactured lot is tracked back to every customer. Money generated from component sales are shared with customers.

"We try to reuse everything before we scrap it out," Bob Glavin says.

"The concept is to try to squeeze as much value out of equipment as possible," says Darrell Stoecklin, United's vice president of finance.

"But often, the equipment is obsolete with little market value," Stoecklin continues. "Or, its generator wants it destroyed or dismantled so it doesn't end up out on the market competing with that company's newer products."

Board chips' sale prices can range from 10 cents for a regular linear chip to $500 for some Pentium Pro processors, according to Smith, vice president of Universal Integrated Circuits. The chips are marketed to companies that either broker them to other buyers or use them to repair older model computers.

Aluminum and copper prices can range from 10 cents per pound to 50 cents per pound. Precious metals are sold into world markets, which vary daily. Cardboard and software is baled and sold for its paper content. Monitors without resale value are considered a hazardous waste.

"Plastics are one of the most difficult things to resell because there's such a wide variety and they're not all compatible," Bob Glavin says. "We sell it or give it away for reuse in fence posts, picnic tables, etc."

United Recycling handles all phases of recycling within one company framework, providing clients a sense of security: proprietary items and equipment that clients want destroyed will be.

Nearly 100 percent of United's clients are businesses. "Homeowners who should be recycling have fallen way behind, it seems," Bob Glavin says. "Residents are encouraged to bring in their equipment for no charge/no pay three times a week, However, few homeowners participate." Part of the problem, he suspects, is the inconvenience of dropping off equipment.

To combat this, Bob Glavin says he would like to work with municipal residential recycling programs. However, he notes, "Right now we wouldn't be able to handle the load, and municipal program recycling efforts tend to be focused on aluminum cans and plastic bottles."

Now, the company is preparing for the future. It currently is negotiating a lease for an 85,000-square-foot warehouse for additional storage.

For more information on demanufacturing, see "N.J. County Dismantles Recycling and Emission Problems," World Wastes, March 1997, page 7.

Acquisitions Superior Services Inc., Milwaukee, Wis., has signed a definitive agreement to acquire GeoWaste Inc., Jacksonville, Fla., in a stock transaction valued at approximately $56 million.

Waste Connections Inc., Roseville, Calif., has closed acquisitions on the assets of Contractors' Waste Removal, Orem, Utah. It also has closed the acquisition of B&B Sanitation, Red Carpet Landfill and Darlin Equipment, three affiliated companies operating in Majory County, Okla.

Agreement Martin County Solid Waste Department, Martin County, Fla., has selected Camp Dresser & McKee Inc., Cambridge, Mass., to provide solid waste and landfill engineering services.

SILVER SPRING, MD - Despite a lack of tax credits for landfill gas-to-energy (LFGTE) projects, their continued development is important for the environment, says John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Many LFGTE projects relied on the federal Section 29 tax credit, which expired June 30.

Consequently, SWANA has mobilized an advocacy effort to increase such projects' viability and to preserve and enhance the public and private sectors' ability to use landfill gas (LFG) as a renewable energy resource, Skinner says.

SWANA's legislative strategies include:

* promoting federal financial incentives that recognize the cost-effective environmental benefits of LFG use;

* increasing funding for the Renewable Energy Production Incentive (REPI) program;

* supporting a federal renewable portfolio standard to guarantee that renewable energy, including LFG, be made available to consumers as a percentage of total electricity generated; and

* supporting a domestic and international trading market for greenhouse gas reductions that includes methane reductions achieved by LFG projects.

Skinner says SWANA also is taking a long-term approach to building support in the administration and in the U.S. Congress through education and grassroots advocacy in promoting greenhouse gas reductions via methane reductions. The association's message stresses LFG's importance as an economical, renewable energy resource. SWANA's latest data details LFG's potential for meeting more than 11 percent of the Kyoto Treaty greenhouse gas reduction targets.

According to Skinner, LFG use is a win-win situation for both consumers and the environment. "LFG projects can improve air quality, generate electricity to meet public and private power needs, serve as a substitute for natural gas supplies and provide fuel for cars and trucks," he says.

For more information, see "Developing Landfill Gas Projects without Getting Credit," World Wastes May 1998, page 50. For other opportunities, contact David Tubman at SWANA: (301) 585-2898 ext. 258.