May 21—Old electronics were already stacking up in the trailer and a fair-sized chip pile was growing on the table as members of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Great Bend hosted an electronic recycling event Saturday.
The pandemic caused a three-year interruption of the annual event that had taken place every May collecting thousands of pounds of electronic waste from the community since 2014.
Saturday’s weather was overcast and a little blustery, but that’s normal, noted St. Mark’s Pastor Adam Wutaka.
“It’s been three years since we last did this because of COVID, but this is typical weather for our E-cycle day,” he said. “In fact, this is actually a beautiful day because it’s not wet.”
Through the event, the church works in partnership with the Barton County landfill, which locates a trailer to provide a one-day drop-off point inside the community. “People can donate this stuff for free at the landfill pretty much any time,” Pastor Wutaka said. “But the landfill folks are happy that this kind of gives a focus to e-cycle and it’s kind of a matter of convenience for people.
“We’ve been gone for a while, so this year we might be more full than usual.”
All things electronic, from cellphones, computers and accessories, charger cords, microwaves and VCRs are accepted. “We’ve got an old turntable and a combo DVD-VCR already,” he said.
The items are taken apart to separate out the various components, like hard drives, chips and outer coverings.
“When people bring in computers that have hard drives, we take those out and give them back if they want ’em,” Pastor Wutaka explained. “Otherwise, we take apart and destroy the drive.”
Pastor Wutaka noted that much of the material used in electronics manufacture is in finite supply. “We’ve heard about the chip shortage; that might be COVID or supply chain or it could be a shortage of raw materials. There is very much a market for reclaiming old electronics, with places that process them and reclaim the rare earth metals.” These elements include lanthanum, cedrium, neodymium and terbium and can be extraordinarily expensive to extract and refine from a raw state. Recoverable, but pricey elements such as aluminum, copper, gold, silver and ferrous metals are also used in electronics.
Additionally, some of the components might have toxic elements that shouldn’t be eating up space in a landfill, he said.
Toxic elements include mercury, lead, cadmium, flame retardants, battery acids, barium and lithium.
“We don’t want this stuff just sitting in a landfill taking up space,” he said.