North Carolina is home to a robust recycling industry that creates jobs, generates tax revenues and diverts significant tonnage from our local landfills.
The still-looming potential repeal of North Carolina’s statewide electronics recycling program not only puts thousands of both direct and indirect electronics recycling jobs in jeopardy, but it puts at risk the environmental protection work being done by electronics recyclers, recycling associations, municipalities and others.
The economic ripples of e-scrap
A recycling operation’s success and tonnage has a direct correlation to the growth and tonnage feeding into another recycling operation. For example, as an electronic recycler’s throughput increases, the throughput of many regionalized steel, cardboard and non-ferrous operations will grow as well. As throughput increases and more loads ship, jobs are created in many regionalized businesses, including local freight companies, equipment manufacturers and repair operations, packaging suppliers, and the list goes on.
The direct money spent in our local economies would also be affected by the repeal of the state’s program. For example, as throughput decreases through North Carolina’s electronics recycling facilities, less propane and fuel would be purchased for forklifts and trucks fleets, less baler wire would be bought, fewer boxes and pallets would be needed, and fewer uniforms and personal protective equipment would be sourced.
Repealing the electronics recycling legislation and potentially cutting hundreds of millions of pounds of electronics recycled by certified processing facilities in North Carolina would also squeeze the number of jobs in the state.
PowerHouse Recycling is just one of several large certified electronics recyclers in North Carolina. In the last four years alone, PowerHouse has grown from 13 to 100-plus employees and invested millions of dollars in our local economy through the purchasing and construction of our secure, four-building processing campus. Many other industry companies have invested similarly.
As most of my industry colleagues reading this already know, electronics contain metals and precious metals that are recoverable and easily used to manufacture new items. Steel, plastic, glass, aluminum, copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, nickel, palladium, silver, tin and gold are all recovered and reused through the proper recycling of electronics.
Without formal programs in place in various states, many electronics will be buried in a landfill, unable to be recovered. It is important to note that these resources are limited and a recycling stream needs to stay open, robust and growing to keep these resources available for production.
Opening door to increased landfilling
With our neighboring states of South Carolina and Virginia keeping their electronics recycling legislation in place, North Carolina would potentially become the future dumping grounds of surrounding states if lawmakers here were to repeal our program.
Companies, individuals and other non-certified recyclers from other states will send in TVs and CRTs by the truckloads to North Carolina for the cheaper landfill dumping fee versus the recycling costs of leaded glass. North Carolina State University conducted a study in 2015 about state landfills, and it included two findings that show the hard work of landfill engineers, landfill operators, solid waste directors, recyclers and associations in the state of North Carolina:
First, North Carolina, per capita, sends less waste to landfills than the nation’s average due to the presence of more recycling streams, businesses and programs. The other major takeaway from the study is that North Carolina landfills have a capacity to hold 20 more years of waste, while most states are on a much shorter timeline.
Why would we, as a state, want to take steps backward to potentially fill up landfills faster, recycle less and contaminate our local air, water and soil when there are viable electronic recycling streams set up here already?
We do recognize there are some issues with our state’s current program, but the outright repeal of the program in no way will benefit our environment, job market or economy. The current program could be reworked to help properly fund municipalities, which bear the largest financial burden of the costs to properly recycle televisions, computer monitors and other electronics.
In-state, certified recyclers, original equipment manufacturers, municipality leaders and legislators can, and should, form a new committee to discuss hardships the current program poses on all major stakeholders to assure the program improves and is sustainable.
Brett C. Henderson is the director of sales at PowerHouse Recycling Inc. He can be reached at [email protected] or 1-855-MYECYCLE
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a subject you wish to cover in a future Op-Ed, please send a short proposal to [email protected] for consideration.