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By recycling obsolete computers and other electronics, Kentucky government and education organizations are receiving revenue to help them in tight budgetary times.
In February, one school brought in more than $1,200 in revenue, said Tom Heil, an environmental scientist at the Kentucky Division of Waste Management. And he's seen other schools gain a couple thousand dollars from turning in whole classrooms of computers when they bought newer models.
While that money may not cover much of the new computer purchases, it does cover some labor and other implementation costs, he said.
Since the commonwealth's e-scrap recycling program started in 2009, government agencies, school districts and universities have received a net payment of almost $212,000, Heil said. This number comes from almost $315,000 in total reimbursements minus nearly $103,000 in charges to take certain types of electronics such as TVs.
Through the program, Kentucky has kept nearly 9.5 million pounds of e-scrap out of landfills, Heil said. That's important for two main reasons:
1. Electronic devices contain hazardous material that can leach into groundwater.
2. Recyclable electronic devices have economic value because they contain valuable materials including gold, platinum, palladium, beryllium, copper, certain types of plastic, steel and aluminum.
Beyond the revenue, information security was another key factor in Kentucky's decision to sign an e-scrap contract. Government computers house citizen Social Security numbers, tax information and patient health information.
When these computers are replaced, this type of information needs to be destroyed, Heil said. If the hard drives are not wiped clean and disposed of correctly, they could wind up in the wrong hands.
Through the commonwealth's contract with Creative Recycling Systems Inc., every recycled hard drive is either wiped clean or shredded.
"We have the trust, the obligation to safeguard our citizens' information that they've given to the state agencies — as well as make sure that the material does not end up some place it doesn't belong," Heil said.
None of the electronics end up in a landfill. Instead, they're reused or become raw materials for manufacturers of new products.
Kentucky was one of the first states in the nation to sign an all-agency contract with an e-scrap vendor, Heil said. City and county government generate the most e-scrap material, followed by K-12 schools, state government and universities.
Several states have called Heil to find out how satisfied Kentucky is with its vendor and how its program is set up. States are interested to learn how Kentucky doesn't rack up a big bill every month. Many of the states that show interest in contracts like this have e-scrap laws on the books that ban e-scrap from landfills and also have producer take-back programs.
They're usually surprised that e-scrap programs can make money, Heil said. While Kentucky has to pay to recycle certain items such as TVs, even cabling that contains copper earns the commonwealth 10 cents a pound.
Because of the high-end materials contained in electronics, e-scrap dealers are hungry for them. And that makes this a seller's market, Heil said.
Companies that pick up electronics at individual school districts and agencies and pay something for the material will come out ahead with state government agencies, he said. That money goes directly to the government or education organization that recycled the electronics.
"This is really a good way of getting money back to the generator, making sure that the materials are properly reused and recycled, and that the data contained on them is secured," Heil said.
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