WORTHINGTON -- Six months after a new Minnesota law went into effect requiring individuals to pay for disposal of electronic equipment, Nobles County Environmental Officer Mark Koster hasn't seen an increase in the number of illegally-disposed-of items recovered from roadside ditches. That, however, isn't the case elsewhere across the state.
Illegal dumping of electronics seems to be more prevalent in rural counties across Minnesota, according to an Associated Press article released Monday, and it's creating a buzz among some state legislators who believe the electronics recycling law must be changed.
Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, the new head of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, said she plans to host a hearing on e-waste recycling early in the upcoming session.
County officials across the state want legislators to put the responsibility on manufacturers to have an electronic collection and recycling system.
That isn't a bad idea, according to Arnie Vink, manager of the Rock County Transfer Station. He has seen illegal dumping grow into a big problem in Rock County, and said if businesses would take back used electronics and recycling, people might be more apt to have them recycled.
"We've had (an illegal dumping problem) for a long time," Vink said. "Every abandoned farm place seems to have electronics or appliances dumped up in the grove. It's worse now because of the high price -- a 100-pound TV costs about $32 to dispose of; it's 32 cents per pound.
"If you have to spend $32 to get rid of a TV you don't want, it's not much fun."
Rather than pay the price to have electronics disposed of properly, Vink said some people are ditching them wherever they can.
"The ones that bring them in (for recycling), they don't like the price much," he added. "Some will take them back out if they don't want to pay, and you don't know where (the items) went."
Vink said the cost to recycle electronics has decreased since the new law took effect July 1, but that was because the county found a new recycler that charged about 30 cents less per pound to take the items off the county's hands. Rock County residents may drop off electronics and appliances at the transfer station between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and Millennium Recycling of Sioux Falls, S.D., takes the items from there.
While the cost of recycling electronics is considerably more than residents pay for garbage service -- 32 cents per pound compared to 4 cents per pound for garbage -- Vink said collecting electronics is a valuable service to Rock County residents and worth the price.
Most electronics contain hazardous materials, including lead, mercury and cadmium -- materials that can get into the soil and impact ground water.
"We don't want to poison ourselves," Vink said, adding that lead is the main problem because it is found in picture tubes and the glass used for TVs and computer monitors. When those items break at the landfill, water gets inside and picks up the lead before going into the soil.
In Nobles County, Koster said the landfill is lined to prevent hazardous materials from leaching into the soil, but that doesn't mean people can illegally dispose of electronics by putting them inside their garbage container. The county's public works building serves as a collection site for electronics and appliances and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Tuesday, as well as from 9 a.m. to noon the first Saturday of each month.
Koster said the county began offering the electronics recycling program two years ago, and Schaap Sanitation also serves as a collection point for the county.
The cost to dispose of items in Nobles County ranges from $10 for computer monitors, printers, stereos, VCR/DVD players and camcorders to $25 for a TV or appliance such as a microwave, freezer, refrigerator, washer/dryer or oven. Of course, people in Worthington may place these items curbside during the annual city-wide spring clean-up in April without paying the recycling fees.
Jim Laffrenzen, director of public works for the City of Worthington, said residents pay a general levy fee on their monthly utility bill to cover the cost of the spring clean-up. In 2005, the city collected 521 TVs and computer monitors during spring clean-up, and another 523 were collected this year. The city must pay $15 per item for disposal, and that doesn't include manpower and equipment to get all of the items off the curbs.