As Old Computer Monitors and Electronics Pile Up, Environmental Risk Grows

Tom Johnson | July 21, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Many e-waste recyclers can no longer find vendors interested in their offerings, increasing likelihood that lead will leach into soil

New Jersey’s effort to safely dispose of old TVs and computer monitors is in danger of collapsing, according to electronic waste recyclers.

There is legislation (S-2973) pending before the state Senate to address the problem but neither manufacturers nor recyclers are convinced it will fix so-called e-waste recycling.

Many recyclers told a Senate committee yesterday that it is costing more to safely dispose of these devices than what manufacturers are willing to pay, causing businesses to lay off employees and, in some cases, weigh folding up shop.

“I can’t continue to operate the way it is,’’ said John Martorano Jr., founder of Magna Computer Recycling in Pennsauken. “It makes no sense.’’

Like other recyclers, he told the committee he is only paid pennies on the pound to recycle the materials, a process that involves collecting, wrapping, and shipping the e-waste to get rid of it safely.

“If something doesn’t change, I’ll be out of business by the end of the year,’’ said John White, CEO and owner of LogTech, LLC, based in Manasquan. He has already laid off eight staffers because of problems with the program, he said.

New Jersey has required the recycling of e-waste, one of the fastest-growing parts of the waste stream since 2008. The idea is to keep potentially toxic materials out of landfills and incinerators.

[related]Old color TVs and computers used cathode-ray tubes in the video-display unit, which contain lead, a highly toxic compound. With the advent of flat-screen technology, there is not as much demand to recycle the tubes, depressing the market and lowering prices for the material.

The result is that recyclers are struggling to find vendors to take the material. Some end up with huge stockpiles of e-waste stored on site, posing a hazard to the environment.

“We want to keep the electronics out of the landfill,’’ said Chris Maassaro, an executive at Monmouth Computer and Wire Recycling. “We’re asking for a fair level of pricing.’’

The problem also has increased costs to counties participating in the recycling effort. “We’re seeing a trend of counties and towns to eliminate the programs,’’ said John Purves, an attorney representing some recycling facilities.

The Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group representing manufacturers, said the legislation ought to focus on the material in the e-waste stream of most concern — the cathode-ray tubes. Other than that, the rest of the waste stream is not a problem, according to Walter Alcorn, an executive with the group.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate panel, urged stakeholders to submit their suggestions for amending the bill, noting it may come up for a vote in the Senate as early as September. Before that happens, Smith said he hopes to set up a meeting with the state Department of Environmental Protection to get its input on the measure next month.

“We want to try and make the bill better than it already is,’’ Smith said.