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Locals organize 'e-waste' disposal

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| May 21, 2009 12:00 AM

The U.S. population throws away 130 million cell phones each year, contributing to electronic waste that makes up 40 percent of lead found in landfills.

Karen Retine, a Libby resident, wanted to do her part to protect the area from hazardous material contained in discarded electronics, or e-waste. She began by contacting Jennifer Nelson of the Northwest Montana Economic Development District.

The two women, in partnership with Kootenai Disposal, set up a recycle event to collect e-waste – computers, cell phones, printers, DVD players and more – this coming Wednesday and Thursday from 3-7 p.m. at Kootenai Disposal in Libby.

At first the two began researching the specifics of organizing a household hazardous waste day. They soon discovered how big the project would be – there are strict guidelines for storing hazardous wastes like paint, oil and pesticides.

“We found out it was a pretty big ball of wax,” Nelson said, “so we dropped back to e-waste.”

Recycling electronics – salvaging reusable material such as gold and properly disposing of hazardous material – is not profitable, so the organizers will charge a fee. Ranging from $1.75 for a desk phone to $25 for a commercial printer – all of the money will go directly to a Department of Environmental Quality-approved vendor for the cost of shipping the material to its site and recycling.

The alternative is to dispose the material at the Lincoln County Landfill, which smashes and buries electronics in an unlined landfill. Hazardous chemicals like lead, mercury and cadmium could seep into the ground, Retine said. 

“I think it’s every citizen’s duty to make sure the things they buy are properly disposed of,” Retine said, even if that means paying a small fee.

People with e-waste will drive through the Kootenai Disposal building, check in, pay fees and have volunteers unload their vehicles. Computer monitors and televisions will go on pallets and other e-waste will go into large cardboard bins.

Jerry Snell, owner of Kootenai Disposal, is donating the facility, material and his own and staff time for the event.

Once the e-waste is packaged, Kootenai Disposal will transport the material to Kalispell, and Veolia Tech Solutions will freight it to its facility in Phoenix to process.

“The landfill here is an unlined landfill and there are a lot of toxins in computer equipment,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to raise awareness, and this is a good place to start.”