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Where do dead electronics go?

Washington County has a new e-cycling program. The question is whether local residents will choose to participate in it.

Washington County has a new e-cycling program. The question is whether local residents will choose to participate in it.

April 08, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Hagerstown residents who have broken or worn out TVs, microwaves, computers and other electronics will have an interesting dilemma this month: Throw them away for free or pay $8 to recycle them?

After having a few one-day electronics recycling programs the past two years, Washington County began a regular electronics recycling program in March. County residents can take their electronics to Forty West Landfill to be recycled, for a fee.

But the City of Hagerstown is holding its spring Dumpster program the week of April 14, in which city residents can take bulky items such as furniture and electronics to a specific site to discard for free, with most items going into the landfill.

What would you do?

Asked Wednesday night what they would do - discard electronics for free and have them go into the landfill or take them to the landfill and pay $8 to have them recycled - four Hagerstown residents said they'd take them to the Dumpster.

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"I'd probably dump it in the Dumpster, to be honest with you," said Tabatha Deneen, 24. "I'd feel a little bit guilty, but it'd just be easier."

It was the drive to the landfill, not the $8, that discouraged Deneen, who said she'd pay the fee if she could drop her electronics off in town.

Jamie Dryden, 21, of Hagerstown, said she'd feel no guilt over selecting the free option. Both the fee and the drive, with gas prices being high, prompted her decision.

Her boyfriend, Tim Corrick, 22, of Columbia, Md., said he'd feel some guilt and concern over possible toxins from putting electronics in the trash, but he'd still pick the trash over recycling if he were a Hagerstown resident - if he couldn't sell the electronics first.

At first, Hagerstown resident Casey Woodyard, 26, said "I would say realistically ... I would throw it away. ... If it's not convenient, people aren't going to do it."

After learning more about the program, Woodyard said he would consider the recycling program over the Dumpster program.

Asked about the dilemma Thursday, Eric Deike, the city's public works manager, said there still might be a way to work something out where electronics can be placed in a different truck at the spring Dumpster site near Bester Elementary School. He'd have to figure out what the county would charge for taking the electronics to be recycled.

At the least, Deike and Harvey Hoch, the county's recycling coordinator, said there would be a discussion before next year's Dumpster program to see if there is a way to avoid having electronics dropped off at the Dumpster program and ending up in the landfill.

Hoch said there were some people who knew the county was working on starting a regular electronics recycling program and saved their electronics until the program began so they could be recycled.

"We have to have the cooperation of the people," he said. Even someone dropping off electronics at the landfill could end up putting electronics in the Dumpster, Hoch said.

Landfill employees will try to direct people with discarded electronics to the recycling drop-off at the landfill. But if electronics arrive in a mixture of stuff, it might all end up in the landfill. Whether people choose to recycle electronics or throw them away at the landfill, the minimum fee is $8.

George Hartle, 29, said if he could recycle electronics for free, he would, but he'd feel no guilt about tossing electronics in the trash instead of paying for recycling.

Hartle wanted to know why there is a fee for recycling.

Hoch said the county contracts with E-Structors, paying the company to haul away the electronics for recycling. The $8 fee, which goes to a prorated fee if the electronics being dropped off weigh more than 320 pounds, helps recoup some of that cost, Hoch said.

While the previous one-day recycling programs were free for consumers, the county had Maryland Department of the Environment grants to pay for those programs, Hoch said.

Why recycle?

The electronics recycling program helps fill a gap for residents who wish to recycle their electronics rather than throw them away, Hoch said. There are private companies that recycle electronics for businesses, and some accept electronics from residents.

Recycling electronics will save space in the landfill, Hoch said.

Also, as with any other material recycling, it usually takes less energy to make items from recycled material than raw material.

There's also an environmental concern: Heavy metals can leach from landfill waste into the environment and contaminate groundwater.

In Washington County, this "leachate" is collected by the landfill's impermeable liner and processed by a pretreatment plant before being released. Treated water from the pretreatment plant goes into the Conococheague Creek and the sludge containing the metals goes back to the landfill.

While Hoch said there's no evidence heavy metals in landfill leachate make it through the pretreatment plant, county solid waste officials were concerned that it might happen.

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