WOW encourages residents to recycle electronics in the free binsChances are the folks at "Antiques Roadshow" won't call the television cameras over if you show up with an antiquated Apple IIe computer. And the local schools might not be too thrilled with a donation of a printer that hasn't worked for five years.
But there are some people who are happy to take the unwanted or out-of-date electronics that are cluttering up your closet. Western Oregon Waste recycles computers, keyboards, monitors, stereos, VCRs, computer parts and accessories, cell phones and rechargeable batteries - basically all home electronics except televisions and microwaves.
After a rush of recycling when the program started almost four years ago, the stream of electronics into the transfer station has slowed down.
"I think people don't know (about the recycling program), so they don't do it, and the garages and basements are full," said Astoria Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum.
On Earth Day in 2001, an electronics recycling event was organized by Astoria's 3R Committee - the R's are for reduce, reuse and recycle - and then-Astoria High School senior Harrison Forrester. They collected 37,000 pounds of electronics, filling two semi-truck trailers.
At the transfer station these days, all the electronics collected in the last nine months fit into four 64-cubic foot bins.
"When we first started, we were going out once a week" to haul away discarded electronics, said Patrick Berry, a processor technician at the transfer facility. Although there has been a good response to the program, he said, most of the items come from the computer repair shop, from businesses that upgrade their machines, or are dropped off after holidays, when people get new computers and gadgets.
Advocates are pushing electronic recycling because many of the components that make the machines run are not things one wants teaching into the environment.
"Computers are really one of the nastiest things around," said 3R member Pat Keefe. "They are chock full of a bunch of pretty toxic, heavy metals, and all of that stuff was just going into a landfill."
"We're thrilled that Western Oregon Waste has taken that on as an extra service that they'll provide," he added.
Tossed inAt WOW's Williamsport Transfer Station, people can dump their unwanted electronics in a bin between the two scales.
"We don't handle them very carefully," Dave Kellmer, who runs the transfer station, said with a laugh, looking at monitors and computer towers and printers that were tossed into the bin.
The transfer station is just the first step in an international journey for these electronics. WOW drives the collected items to McMinnville, where they are picked up by a company called Computer Drive Connections, which will salvage electronic parts or send them to other companies.
"It's pretty remarkable, they are able to recover most of the computer by weight," said Dave Larmouth, the recycling education coordinator with WOW.
As the first step, workers pick out repairable machines from ones that won't ever work again, Larmouth said. Older, functioning computers or computer parts might be sold overseas. Workable parts are salvaged from broken machines, then packaged together and sold in bulk.
"After that it's really more of a scrap market," Larmouth said. Metals like aluminum, copper, nickel and cadmium are found in electronics like computers and rechargeable batteries. A recycling facility can separate these materials, either by chemical or mechanical methods, refine the metals, and reuse them.
The glass in older, television-style computer monitors contains lead, which is harmful if it ends up in ground water. So the screens are crushed, melted down, and reused as well.
Recently, there was a scandal in the electronics recycling world. Pictures surfaced of overseas operations in countries like China, where people bought shipments of monitors, smashed them with sledgehammers to remove a copper wire, then threw the rest of the machine into a ravine or stream.
"The very thing that we were trying to prevent here in Oregon was happening at a worse level, because it was concentrated," Larmouth said.
Since then, however, the Chinese government has gotten more serious about blocking some of these hazardous materials, Larmouth said. And for their part, WOW makes sure that only deliver electronics to a company that knows where the parts will end up.
Once all the metals and hazardous materials have been taken care of, the nonrecyclable parts are sent to the landfill.
But while recycling what you can is good, Larmouth said, the better option is one of the other R's - reduce.
"If you reduce, if it isn't made in the first place ... that's the best," he said. But, "for electronics and gadgets, there always seems to be something new out there, and a lot of people go out and buy it." Instead of dumping of out-of-date gadgets in the landfill, though, if no one else wants them there's a recycling bin with their name on it.