Center pushes e-cycling

BY MEGAN DIAL | MARCH 24, 2009 7:30 AM

Iowa City Senior Center officials are leading a local effort to make sure people’s discarded electronics don’t end up in limbo at the landfill.

They’ve caught on to the environmentally friendly movement of recycling electronics.

Susan Rogusky, the Senior Center’s volunteer specialist, said the center has sent donated cell phones to Cellular Recycler since 2007. In January, both organizations began accepting smaller electronic devices, such as computers, digital cameras, MP3 players, and video-game consoles.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Rogusky said. The center gets 90 percent of the income — in two and a half years, it has accrued $3,000 — and the rest goes to the National Council on Aging.

The center receives a different amount of money depending on the electronic device recycled — ranging from 25 cents to $20.

According to the Cellular Recycler website, approximately 80 percent of recycled phones are refurbished and reused. Around 20 percent are recycled for the different metals.

The number of devices recycled locally has remained fairly steady since the program started, Rogusky said.

“I know that people were thrilled to have some place to take their cell phones,” she said, but it’s still too early for her to gauge the amount of enthusiasm about recycling other electronics.

To collect the devices, volunteers from the Senior Center place boxes in different locations in Iowa City. When the boxes are full, the electronics are packaged and mailed to Cellular Recycler in Boulder, Colo.

“It couldn’t be easier,” Rogusky said.

Jennifer Jordan, the recycling coordinator at the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center, said some electronics at the landfill are sent to the Senior Center rather than sitting and not decomposing.

In 2003, Iowa City residents deposited 26.04 tons of electronics at the site. This number increased each year, peaking in 2007 at 83.93 tons.

In 2008, the amount dropped 3.73 tons from the previous year to 80.2, and Jordan said this is probably because Environmental Protection Agency officials collected the items during last summer’s flood.

Only 10 percent of cell phones are recycled nationally each year, according to the EPA. The agency leads a program called “Plug-In To eCycling,” which partners with leading cell-phone manufacturers to encourage recycling.

The push to reuse electronics is spurred by the potential harmful effects the metals in the devices could have in landfills.

“It’s a human-made capsule of garbage, and at some point in the future, there is the potential of it leaching,” Jordan said.

She said landfill officials are legally bound to monitor the area several times each year to minimize the chances of contamination.

Jordan said the Senior Center’s program appears to be making a difference in the number of electronics in the local landfill.

“Any cell phone it takes and gets paid for is one fewer that we have to take and pay to get rid of,” she said.

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