By Heather WilburnNovember 18, 2008
FORT BLISS, Texas - Members of the Fort Bliss and El Paso, Texas, communities found a way keep almost 16,000 pounds of electronics waste out of area landfills, bringing everything from computers and cellular phones to blow dryers and curling irons to the Fort Bliss Recycling Center Nov. 15.
More than 120 people took advantage of the center's E-Day, or Electronics Waste Recycling Day, held in conjunction with America Recycles Day.
"Electronics are just like any other recyclable, in that if we can keep them out of the landfill, that's what we try to do," said Lilia Lenhart, program manager for solid waste at the Directorate of Public Works' Environmental Division. "Basically, that's it: We're trying to keep all this stuff out of the landfill, and make sure any hazardous materials that come from the electronics are properly disposed of and don't find their way into our environment."
The hazardous materials found in electronics waste include lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium, Lenhart said.
"Those things shouldn't go into the landfill," she said. "And when we keep them out of the landfill, that protects the area's groundwater supply."
Keeping the items out of landfills has another benefit, as well, said Joel Reyes, a volunteer worker at the event and an employee of the Environmental Division.
"The landfill ... is already getting packed, and that's not only happening here at Fort Bliss, it's happening in El Paso; it's happening all over the place," he said. "When we can find a place to recycle and get better use of these items, instead of taking them to the landfill where they take up space, I think it's always beneficial to our community."
"It's important to keep this stuff out of the landfills," agreed John Fleenor, an El Paso resident who made the trip from his Eastside home to drop off no-longer-needed electronics. "We don't need to pollute our environment with all the hazardous stuff that's in electronics."
Fleenor said he's been waiting to bring the items to the post's Recycling Center.
"This is the only place in El Paso that you can drop off recyclable electronic items free," he said. "When they had it last year, we did it, and ... we've been waiting and waiting to see if they were going to have it again. ... I just wish they would do it more often."
Because of the scarcity of electronics recyclers in the area, the Recycling Center deals with a large amount of material when it holds E-Day. In 2007, the center collected more than 10,000 pounds of electronics waste from about 250 customers, Lenhart said.
This year, the number of customers was down, but the center saw an increase of 60 percent in the weight of recyclables turned in - 15,894 pounds, or almost 8 tons. To handle the load, the Recycling Center partnered with Discover Recycling, a local materials management company,
"Our partner, Discover Recycling, is collecting the items and putting them on pallets," Lenhart said. "They secure them, and then they take them to their facility to ... separate the stuff that is usable and properly dispose of the other materials."
Lenhart said she hopes the Recycling Center will have a permanent site for electronics recycling by next year.
"That's our goal, for people to be able to bring all their recyclables here, all year long," she said.
Another goal of the center is to raise community awareness of environmental issues, Lenhart noted.
"We want to make sure people know there are hazardous materials in electronics and that we dispose of them properly and keep it out of the landfill to protect our groundwater resources," she said. "We just want people to do the right thing and be great environmental stewards, and this is just part of doing your part," Lenhart added. "We want them to keep anything dangerous out of the landfill, to be very cognizant about that. Disposing of these hazardous materials properly helps us to do that."
"It's a great opportunity to interact not only with the community here at Fort Bliss, but with the El Paso community, as well," Reyes said. "And it's a way to make people aware, especially with the TV changes, from analog to digital, there are a lot of people who don't know what to do with their TVS - this is it."
While E-Day is a popular event, it's only part of the Recycling Center's mission, Lenhart said. "We have a drop-off center for people who want to ... properly dispose of their recyclable items," she said. "And we work with unit funds, where 50 percent of the proceeds from the recyclable items sold goes back to the unit."
Two units that participated in the program with the Amigo Airsho each made about $750 to add to their funds, Lenhart noted.
"Get in touch with us, set up that unit fund and start recycling," she said.