Will County E-Waste Recycling Program’s Future Uncertain

In the article “Future of Will County Electronics Recycling Program in Jeopardy, Director Warns” published on 12 Nov 2014 in the Joliet Herald-News, reporter Lauren Leone-Cross details the fiscal challenges facing the hitherto effective drop-off program and uncovers the difficulties in matching manufacturers’ legally-mandated funding of the program with the demand for e-waste recycling.

That was the message Wednesday from Dean Olson, who heads up Will County’s Resource Recovery and Energy Division, during a county board Legislative and Policy Committee meeting.

Olsen characterized the issue as “urgent,” noting immediate action is needed during the state legislative veto session next week or during the lame-duck session in January.

Olson said the rising cost of recycling — coupled with low annual recycling goals set by state law for electronics manufacturers — is to blame. Once manufacturers meet those weight goals, they no longer have to pay recycling contractors to process items, he said.

In turn, recyclers across the state are asking local governments to foot the bill, as allowed by state law, Olson said. In Will County’s case, that would result in “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in additional costs not budgeted, he said.

The law in question, which passed in 2012, banned certain electronic items from landfills and set recycling quotas for state manufacturers. The law was meant to fully pay for residential electronics recycling, but is failing to meet statewide demand as e-waste increases each year, Olson said.

The price to recycle glass has increased, too, Olson said.

This could result in the county’s contractor, Vintage Tech Recycling, halting free recycling services in the future, Olson said. If nothing is done, other collection programs statewide could close, as they have in DuPage County and west Cook County, he said.

“In some cases, sometime in late spring, all contracts will run out with manufacturers and there won’t be any money left,” Olson said.

Marta Keane, recycling program specialist for the county’s Land Use department, said in an email the 2012 state law was designed so that the cost to recycle electronics would be shared between manufacturers and local governments.

This year, nearly all electronics manufacturers met pre-established quotas for pounds of electronics to recycle before the end of the year, she said.

Olson said without manufacturers paying the recyclers, many are storing glass in warehouses because it’s too costly to get rid of.

Mark Kenzler, vice president and chief operating officer for the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said while the group is concerned about increasing the goals so manufacturers foot the entire bill, they’re “more than happy to have a conversation.”

“We’re certainly willing to have a discussion,” Kenzler said. “We’re concerned about the cost. Manufacturers, they like to plan. They likely have contracts already signed so you can’t just flip on a switch and double the cost of everything.”

Legislation in the works would increase goals and bar recyclers from asking local governments to foot the bill, Olson said.

Julie Curry, the county’s legislative liaison, told committee members Wednesday that such legislation would be a tough sell in Springfield due to manufacturers’ opposition.

“That’s a big road block,” Curry said.

A representative from Vintage Tech Recycling could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

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