Focus on electronics recycling needed in Florida

Recycling in Florida can be a touchy subject for the environmental community. For example, when the state passed its landmark plan in 2010 setting a 75 percent recycling goal for the state, lawmakers allowed the creation of energy from waste-to-energy plants to be counted as diversion from landfill. The question of whether waste-to-energy counts as recycling is one of the most divisive questions in the environmental community, and in Florida, that’s a big one – 20,000 tons of municipal solid waste is sent to waste-to-energy facilities each day.

But one thing that most should agree on in Florida when it comes to recycling is more can be done to encourage recycling of electronics in the Sunshine state. While the state encourages electronics recycling and has resources available online, there is no state-wide policy on the recycling of electronics; whether or not electronics can be sent through the regular municipal waste stream is handled on a city and county basis. It’s impossible to know how if electronics are being sent to Waste-To-Energy facilities, and in what volumes.

Some of the state’s 12 WTE facilities in the state make an effort to prevent electronics and other potentially hazardous material from being included in the solid waste stream. Covanta Energy, which operates WTE facilities in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Lake, Lee and Pasco counties, takes an active approach to keep electronics and other recyclables out of the waste stream. Generally speaking, electronics are banned from disposal at waste-from-energy facilities in the U.S. anyway due to the toxins released from the burning of the material, but that’s not to say they are all kept out of the system.

“If something sneaks through, our pollution control systems can catch the pollutants and keep it out of the environment,” said James Regan, Media Relations Manager for Covanta Energy. Covanta uses several layers of visual inspections to pull not only electronics but also other recyclables out of the waste stream before the materials are burned and the released energy is converted to steam. In the newly released sustainability report, Covanta reported recycling 430,000 tons of metals in 2011, out of 20 million tons of waste on average.

However, not all electronics have detectable metals, and  if a mobile phone or small computer is tossed in a trash bag, it’s not always going to get pulled out.

“We pull stuff out with great frequency,” he said, “but we don’t want it in there to begin with.”

Residents in the areas Covanta operates are generally educated in recycling awareness, he said.

What the state needs – and the 24 other states in the nation – is a state-wide electronics recycling program coupled with a law that bans disposal of electronics from landfills and waste-to-energy facilities. Coupled with a strong public education campaign, this is the only way to make sure valuable electronics are being recycled and not sent up in smoke.

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