DEQ to shutter e-waste sites | News

TOLEDO — One of Lincoln County’s three disposal services will soon lose its ability to accept electronic waste for recycling after management learned it had been cut from a statewide program due to lack of funding last fall.

Starting March 1, Dahl Disposal in Toledo and several other rural sanitary service providers across Oregon will no longer be part of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s E-Cycles electronics recycling program. The change is reportedly part of a cost cutting measure unexpectedly announced by the DEQ’s recycling contractors late last November.

The E-Cycles program was introduced in 2010 alongside a state law that prohibits many common electronics from being disposed of in a landfill with regular waste. Such items include TVs, computer monitors, computer towers, printers and most computer accessories, such as mouses and keyboards.

Those items are instead required to be recycled, mainly through the E-Cycles program, which was created partly to increase access to recycling services across the state, especially in rural areas.

“The reason this got passed in the first place was for rural access to help take care of the whole state of Oregon,” Rob Thompson, owner of Thompson Sanitary, said. “This move by the DEQ now is diminishing that, one of the building blocks of the original legislation.”

Late last November, Dahl was contacted by the National Center for Electronics Recycling, the DEQ-approved recycling contractor it has worked with since 2018, and was notified its contract would be canceled, effective Dec. 31, with services ending on March 1. 

NCER told Dahl the cancellation was to make up the difference in tonnage it was funded for by the DEQ and the tonnage it was actually receiving, which was higher than estimated for the last few years.

According to a written statement by Joe Cook, general manager at Dahl, the DEQ allots funding for the E-Cycles program based on a projection of the next year’s recycling collection goals. Said goals are set each year and funding goes to the state’s recycling contractors to reimburse them for the amount of recycling they take in throughout the year

For the last three years, however, the DEQ has underestimated the amount of recycling that would be received statewide, and so the funds it allotted to reimburse its contractors have fallen short, according to Cook. With goals already set for 2022 and another shortfall predicted, contractors like NCER are now looking for ways to match those tonnage estimates and are shutting down lower intake recycling sites like Dahl.

According to DEQ spokesperson Dylan Darling, there are seven total sites being closed down across the state. The next closest is located in Tillamook, and at least one was inactive due to damage from a recent wildfire.

Without an authorized contractor or another approved outlet to collect and recycle electronic materials, Dahl will be unable to collect electronic waste free of charge as it has done for the last decade, completely shutting down e-waste collection at its two collection stations in Lincoln County.

Dahl collected more than 78,000 pounds of electronics last year, but according to Dahl management, the DEQ considers that a relatively small and inconsequential amount when compared to the rest of the state’s recycling intake. 

Local sanitary service providers are still worried about where all the material from Dahl will end up and expect major repercussions in the county.

 “The almost 80,000 pounds of displaced e-waste Dahl had expected to receive (based on actual 2021 tonnage data) from regional residents in 2022 will have to go somewhere, and at best, it will go to the remaining smaller collection sites, such as Thompson’s Sanitary, which lack the capacity and manpower to safely and effectively handle such large increases in material,” Cook’s statement reads. “And at worst, the decrease in accessibility to convenient locations could present health and safety issues for haulers and landfills if customers instead choose to mix these banned materials with garbage, or worse yet, illegally dump it.”

Thompson Sanitary Service in Newport and North Lincoln Sanitary e-waste services will continue operating as normal, though management at Thompson’s, now the only sanitary service with e-waste intake for the lower two thirds of the county, is concerned about the effect the possible influx of additional material diverted from Dahl will have. The Newport sanitary service provider is worried it might be overwhelmed by the additional material, and the lack of space could lead to increased dumping activity within the rural parts of the county. 

“Our facility is regularly full, and we can only take what we have space for,” Thompson said. “We can’t store this stuff outside in the rain. This is going to be a huge change. And we know human nature. If you tell citizens what it’s going to take to now throw the stuff away then it’s easy to see what’s going to happen. If somewhere isn’t available, this stuff could go in a ditch, it could go into the brush or it could go into the regular garbage where it could potentially light our trucks on fire.”

Darling said that while DEQ understands losing a site will certainly have an impact on the area, he said Lincoln County actually still has four E-Cycles drop-off locations, not just two. According to Darling, both Goodwill donation centers in Newport and Lincoln City are also part of the E-Cycles program, and old electronics can also be taken there. He also suggested Lincoln County residents could find drop-off locations outside the county to take their old electronics to, such as Corvallis.

“We recognize the concern and hear the inconvenience losing these sites is going to create, but it’s important to note that in Lincoln County there are four locations still available,” Darling said. “Using the DEQ’s online locater and a Waldport address, you’ll also see that within 100 miles, there are 22 sites.”

Cook and Thompson also argue cutting local access to the program is depriving consumers of something they have already paid for, as most electronic manufacturers are required to pay to help support Oregon’s electronic recycling program, a cost that is passed on to consumers through the price of the products.

“Consumers who have already paid the fee are going to get less service, and that’s really the problem here,” Thompson said.

Dahl has joined with several other sanitary providers being affected by the cuts and the Oregon Refuse and Recycling Association to request that the DEQ adjust its projected recycling goals for 2022 and therefore allot more funding for its contractors and eliminate the need for sites to be cut.

According to Cook, this would allow NCER and other Oregon recycling contractors to recoup costs and continue the program at full capacity. This would allow Dahl and other providers to continue offering e-waste recycling services free of charge. 

But the DEQ’s response has been less than ideal, Cook said, stating the DEQ has informed Dahl and other sanitary services providers they do not intend to adjust the goals this year and that there are no alternative measures the DEQ can provide at this time. 

“It is critical that DEQ adjust the 2022 recycling goals and work with contractors to be able to fully fund the 2022 collection and recycling program for E-Cycles,” Cook’s statement reads, “and that all stakeholders work together to develop longer-term solutions for providing consistent and appropriate funding of the E-Cycles program to avoid future disruptions.”

While the DEQ’s hands are tied at the moment, Darling said it’s possible with future budget adjustments that services would be restored to Dahl, but currently there’s no indication on when that could happen.

Rep. David Gomberg said the recycling issue has come up during the current short legislative session, but it is now past the deadline to create and introduce a new bill to address it. Gomberg said he is actively working with Rep. Pam Marsh of Ashland to seek a parliamentary exemption to address the issue, but was unsure if it would be successful.

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