AtWork! plugs in to statewide electronics recycling effort

August 2, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Evergreen State consumers recycle old electronics by the bushel — more than 100 million pounds of outmoded computers, monitors and televisions since January 2009.

The haul is equal in weight to 181 fully loaded Boeing 787s.

Some 400,000 pounds of the statewide tally started as drop-offs to AtWork! The nonprofit organization helps connect employers and people with disabilities.

AtWork! operates a recycling center in Issaquah. The organization started collecting electronics in 2009 as the state rolled out E-Cycle Washington, a program to collect old electronics.

“That 200 tons of electronics has translated to more than $65,000 in revenue for our organization,” said Andrea Simmonds, director of development for Bellevue-based AtWork! “For us, every dollar that’s made in one of our social-enterprise businesses is a dollar that we can plow back into our mission of helping people with disabilities to find jobs in the community. So, for us, it’s kind of a win-win situation. We get to help the environment and it helps our ability to execute our mission.”

The organization sends, on average, two full trailers to E-Cycle Washington for processing twice each month.

Schools in the Issaquah School District also joined in the e-cycling effort. Liberty High School parent volunteers joined e-cycling nonprofit organization 1 Green Planet to host drop-off events during the school year.

What to know

The state Department of Ecology estimates recycling 100 million pounds of electronics through E-Cycle Washington saved 31,448 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 1.5 million British thermal units.

The breakdown in energy savings equals:

  • 14,472 households’ annual energy consumption
  • 276,630 barrels of oil
  • 12,489 gallons of gasoline

AtWork! in Issaquah offers electronics recycling through the program at no cost to consumers. Find detailed recycling information — including a list of accepted items — at the organization’s website, www.atworkwa.org. Find a complete list of locations in King County and statewide at the E-Cycle Washington website, www.ecyclewashington.org.

AtWork! started to receive more drop-offs after 1 Green Planet relocated from Issaquah to Renton. AtWork! is on track to collect more e-waste in the future, because the organization just started accepting peripheral devices, such as keyboards and printers, for recycling.

Statewide, more than 250 E-Cycle Washington collection sites and services exist. Consumers drop off old electronics for recycling at no cost.

Under a 2006 state law, manufacturers selling computers, monitors and TVs in Washington must fund and operate a program for recycling electronics.

Before the program launched, most old electronics ended up in landfills. The arrangement resulted in toxic runoff and a potential mountain of wasted resources.

“In this electronic age more and more of our waste contains toxics, like lead and mercury, as well as valuable resources that don’t belong in our landfills,” state Department of Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said in a statement.

E-Cycle Washington started collecting electronics in January 2009; the Department of Ecology oversees the program.

“Electronics manufacturers responded to that challenge by providing responsible end-of-life recycling of electronic products for the citizens of Washington state at no charge to the consumer,” John Friedrick, executive director of the manufacturers’ organization, the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority, said in a statement.

Discarded TVs comprise the majority of the statewide haul — 62 percent, on average — of the 3.3 million pounds of electronics coming into the program per month. Consumers toss out bulky TVs in favor of flat-screen models — a major factor in the high volume of recycled TVs.

Officials estimated Washington residents recycle electronics through E-Cycle Washington at a yearly rate of 5.9 pounds per person.

“That’s a good rate, but we hope to do even better by increasing public awareness about this free program,” Sturdevant said.

In addition to bulky items, such as computers and TVs, E-Cycle Washington also accepts tablet computers and e-readers.

The program sends electronics from collection sites to processors for recycling. Most of the e-waste is processed in the United States. Then, the Department of Ecology monitors the recyclers in the program for recycling levels and to ensure exported waste is handled safely.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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