Tackling Tech Trash

Until recently, opportunities for recycling electronics in Arkansas were few and far between. Pulaski County, which encompasses the capital city of Little Rock and more than 370,000 residents, alone generates thousands of pounds of e-waste annually.

In early 2004, the board chairman of the Pulaski County Regional Solid Waste Management District, County Judge and CEO F.G. “Buddy” Villines III, became concerned about the increase in outdated electronic equipment and the effects it would have on area landfills.

“Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing and most toxic segments of the Arkansas waste stream,” he says.

According to Wuf Technologies, a consulting firm with offices in Austin, Texas, and Concord, N.H., Arkansas residents are projected to dispose of nearly 5,000 tons (10 million pounds) of e-waste by 2011.

In the spring of 2004, district staff began planning an enhanced and economical e-waste recycling effort. The hurdles were finding an inexpensive way to gather and store the collected material and a means of transporting it to a recycling facility.

By the end of August 2004, with a general recycling grant from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), the district purchased a 16-foot cargo trailer, which served both as a permanent collection facility and a transporting device for collected waste. During the first three months of operation, the district collected 43,319 pounds of e-waste at this location.

In 2005, four more trailers were purchased, establishing four additional permanent collection facilities. Annual e-waste collection events also were established. More than 278,100 pounds of e-waste were collected in 2005.

In 2006, the Pulaski district was one of the first in Arkansas to receive a $50,000 electronics grant from ADEQ, which subsidized a sixth permanent collection center, the lease of 40-foot trailers and better equipment for bi-annual collection events. These collections have been huge successes.

“Our district alone recycled 43 percent of the total residential e-waste generated in Arkansas last year,” Villines said.

In 2006, the district collected more than 649,500 pounds of e-waste, with 440,000 pounds of that collected during the two collection events.

Carol Bevis, deputy director and recycling coordinator for the district, said the huge success of the collection events can be attributed to the county and city employees in the district and state volunteers. “It's a county-wide team effort,” she says. “Employees from municipalities and the county participate; they bring in their fork lifts for hauling, street sweepers for clean up, extra pallets and manpower for our permanent centers. That is why we are so unique.”

The district also has the only permanent recycling program in the state that is free of charge.

“This is one reason our citizens keep recycling, which is important with an impending ban on e-waste in landfills,” Villines says.

Leigh-Alyson Walters, Pulaski County Regional Solid Waste Management District