The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County continues to take a big byte, so to speak, out of discarded electronics as it nears its 2 million pound goal for 2010.
Printer by printer and monitor by monitor, Lake County residents have steadily been dropping off unwanted or outdated devices at what has become a network of recycling opportunities.
"In the old days, we only did one collection a year," said Pete Adrian, the agency's recycling coordinator.
SWALCO introduced electronics recycling in 2000 and started off slowly, with three events in 2005. Because of the relative novelty, those Saturday afternoon events sometimes featured lengthy waits.
But habits began to change. Environmental awareness rose and it often became less expensive to replace a broken device with something more powerful rather than fix it.
"We were getting so many people and the operation was getting so expensive that we went back to a different model," Adrian said.
"People are more willing to give up their old technology that they perceive still has value, because it's being recycled."
Member communities and other entities, such as large businesses, became host sites with varying levels of accessibility. Some collection sites are one shot deals, while others are open every weekday. Visit www.swalco.org for a list.
Last year, 1.6 million pounds of electronics were collected in Lake County. Now, in mid-December, the total is about 1.8 million pounds, with collections still occurring through the end of the year.
Round Lake Beach, for example, for several years has a drop-off program every other month at its public works facility on Lotus Drive.
As of about 10 a.m. Thursday, four large boxes known as "gaylords" filled pallets outside the garage doors.
"The numbers fluctuate a little bit but over time, they've been growing," said Keith Neitzke, public works director.
"It's amazing how many computers and monitors are out there. We got a lot of TVs when they did the switchover from analog to digital."
Adrian said electronics were collected at 32 Lake County locations in 2010. That number could jump into the mid-40s next year as smaller, weatherproof collection boxes are introduced.
"What we're trying to do is create opportunities for people to get that stuff out of their homes," he said.
Recycling electronics not only saves space and keeps potentially toxic materials out of landfills but allows for the recovery of precious metals, such as gold, silver and copper, Adrian said.
Because the amount of valuable material in each electronic device is small, there is no market for the individual consumer. But if there is a large volume of material, it becomes worthwhile to extract the commodities.
SWALCO has an agreement with a Minnesota company that provides the truck and packaging for the collections and removes them to be recycled.
In Illinois and about two dozen other states, companies that manufacture the equipment also are required to meet specified recycling goals for electronics, Adrian added.
While electronics recycling has risen in Lake County, Adrian says the agency realizes it only is reaching a portion of the population.
That awareness is likely to change. In 2012, electronics join tires, auto batteries, oil and landscape waste as items that will be banned from Illinois landfills.
"We fully expect when it becomes illegal to put those things out (for trash collection) the (recycling) numbers should go up," said Neitzke.