Proponents pushing a plan to reduce e-waste in Missouri landfills

Mar 4, 2014

In Missouri, certain businesses, schools, churches and government agencies are required by law to properly manage electronic waste or e-waste.

In other words they can't legally put things like old computer monitors and TV sets out with the trash.  But there is no penalty in Missouri for folks at home throwing away that old PC or TV.  The EPA estimates that nationwide 80% of e-waste thrown away at people's homes ends up in landfills.

But there is some work taking place in Missouri to change that.  It would involve a new state law currently under construction.

Earlier this year the Missouri Department of Natural Resources held what it called an electronic waste stakeholder meeting in Jefferson City.  There were about 50 people there including county and state government officials, non-profit rep's, trash haulers and people who are in business to make money from dismantling your old PC. 

The stakeholders were there to get some of what they want put into a bill, which supporters say might be introduced into the state legislature this session, next year for sure.  It would require manufacturers of TV's, computers, monitors and printers to recover, and be responsible for recycling a certain percentage of what might be valuable junk.  "In year one, 40%," said Bill Guinther who is the legislative chair for the Missouri Recycling Association or MORA.  "So they would be teaming up with processors and collectors to have drives or whatever it may be to get the material out of the waste stream and out of the landfill."

Dave Beal was also at the stakeholder meeting.  He is a vice-president at EPC.   It operates a 62,000 square foot electronic waste processing center in Earth City which is just off I-70 across the Missouri river from St. Charles. 

About a week after the meeting I visited EPC which processes more e-waste than anyone else in the state.  My tour began in the receiving department.  "We get in everything here," Beal said.  "Network gear, printers, LCD monitors, notebooks, anything electronic."   He said more than 40,000 pieces of e-waste comes in the door here every month providing work for 42 employees.  Most of the stuff comes from businesses  and gets refurbished for resale.  But about 30% of it gets deconstructed.  I saw first-hand what that meant as an EPC employee used a hammer to break the plastic shell off an old PC monitor to get to the guts of it where there might be some value.  And Beal said there is value in just about everything that comes in.  "That's the yoke off a cathode ray tube.  It has copper in it and we get about 85 cents per pound for it."

Beal likes how the new legislative bill is coming together.  If manufacturers like Sony, Dell, Philips and others are required by law at some point to recycle e-waste, someone is going to have to do that for them.  Companies like EPC.  "It would bring more electronics into my company.   Means more jobs.  For every seven people who work in this industry there is one at the landfill," Beal said.

And while EPC is one of the big kids on the block in terms of processing e-waste, there are many other firms and organizations around the state also doing it.

Those getting behind this effort hope lawmakers will respond well to a bill they say is both good for the environment and is likely to create new jobs.