Pa. electronic recycling fix a long way off

Greg Gross

There doesn't appear to be a solution to a Pennsylvania law that was partially blamed for causing the York County Solid Waste Authority to cancel its electronics recycling program in December.

Problems that have been felt across the state stem from requirements in the Covered Device Recycling Act, which went into effect in 2013 to set regulations on how household electronics are disposed of, and that the price of metals found in electronics has dropped.

Any fix to the act has to be in the form of a bill in the General Assembly.

"It would have to be on the shoulders of the Legislature," said Brandon Cwalina, spokesman for state Department of Environmental Protection.

A legislative solution could be months, if not a year, away since it takes about that long for a bill to reach the governor's desk.

"We're got to get something done, and we need to get it done quickly," said Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township.

Temporary fix: State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County, plans to introduce a bill that would create a temporary fix to the problem plaguing York and other counties.

The bill would allow DEP to waive provisions of the act for municipalities that are not within five miles of a state-sanctioned electronics recycling facility. If the bill is signed into law, electronics from those municipalities would end up in landfills.

"It's not the ideal solution," Bloom admitted.

But it's better than the alternative of electronics being illegally dumped alongside roads. Bloom noted a recent news report found televisions and other electronics are being dumped in Michaux State Forest, which covers parts of four counties, including parts of northwestern York County.

"They are taking TVs there by the ton," Bloom said, adding he has an old television sitting in his garage because he can't recycle it. "My concern is we have a dumping problem."

Rep. Chris Ross, R-Chester County, wrote the original bill that became the Covered Device Recycling Act and plans to introduce amendments to it.

The act: The Covered Device Recycling Act forbids most household electronics, such as computers, monitors, tablets, computer peripherals and televisions, from going to a landfill and requires that the items be recycled.

That has created a supply and demand imbalance for recyclers. Manufacturers and retailers aren't allowed to charge for recycling items covered by the law, but vendors not associated with manufacturers or retailers can charge a fee.

Old cathode ray tube televisions and computer monitors, which use tubes and feature leaded glass, are particularly problematic and are considered a negative value commodity. Recycling them carries a high cost, and there are only 10 CRT processors in the world, leading to high transportation costs, according to a DEP report.

Issues: Officials fear illegal dump sites will crop up without a way for people to responsibly dispose of electronics anytime soon.

"And I've got a year's worth of TVs floating down the Codorus (Creek) or sitting in Nixon Park," Phillips-Hill said.

The solid waste authority was forced to halt its recycling program in December when the vendor it contracted with pulled out of the deal because running the program would have been cost prohibitive.

The problem was compounded earlier this month when Best Buy, which has a location in Springettsbury Township, stopped its own recycling program, citing the same problems as the county solid waste authority. The office-supply store Staples, as well as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Keystone Area locations, still accept some electronics, according to a list of electronics collection programs from DEP.

Since the authority dumped its program, officials there have been trying to find a vendor that will take the recyclables, but a new one hasn't been found, said Ellen O'Connor, authority spokeswoman, adding a solution has to come from the state.

"I'm getting bombarded with emails every day from people who don't have places to go with their electronics, especially their TVs," she said.

— Reach Greg Gross at