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Will County closes all recycling centers

Most electronic items have been banned from landfills in Illinois for the past four years. But state and local officials are still struggling with what to do with all the unwanted TVs and computer monitors.

Will County now has the same problem.

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On Tuesday, Will County was forced to pull the plug on all of its free electronic recycling centers — at least temporarily — while county officials revamp their program and work with the state on new legislation to find efficient ways to deal with mounting piles of electronic waste, or e-waste.

And when the centers do reopen — possibly in May — there will be far fewer than the 13 sites once operated by the county, and with more restrictions, said Marta Keane, program director for Will County's Resource Recovery and Energy Division. She is reaching out to other communities to see if they can host a dropoff site or a one-day collection event.

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The Orland Township Highway Department will host a one-day collection April 9 — for residents only. Several months ago, it closed its facility on Wolf Road. .

The township shut its facility because recycling companies started charging for the service, and it could not afford it.

Meanwhile, just of north Chicago, the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, which operated the largest electronic collection system in the state, voted in a special meeting Thursday night to close its five dropoff sites beginning May 1. It cited that it had insufficient funds to keep operating.

"The agency was faced with an unanticipated mandate to pay for collecting electronics, and regrettably we cannot afford to pay more when we are already providing nearly $150,000 per year in manpower and equipment at the five collection sites," SWALCO Chairman Larry Mount said in a statement.

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SWALCO Executive Director Walter Willis said, "It is our goal to work with the other stakeholders, including the electronics manufacturers and recyclers, to develop a more sustainable program so that our residents are able to comply with the law, which currently bans 18 items from the landfill, including TVs."

The recycling problem has forced Will County to pay a contractor to eventually operate its popular dropoff center. Last month, it agreed to a tentative plan to pay California-based Electronic Recyclers International up to $200,000 to operate its centers. The county is still working on the contract language, Keane said. When sites do re-open, the county will require people who are dropping off unwanted electronics to show identification, verifying they are Will County residents, and be limited to two TVs she said.

The centers will have more restricted hours, since they will have to be staffed by people who can check identifications, sort the materials and shrink wrap them onto a pallet.

Keane said they also want their sites to have video surveillance systems to discourage illegal dumping.

Meanwhile, Keane has been to Springfield, working with the Illinois EPA to revamp a law passed last summer, which the IEPA admitted was "flawed."

Under that law, manufacturers are required to pay to recycle a specific amount for waste products — based on the weight of products they sold two years ago. But those fees don't cover total recycling costs, leaving local government agencies and recycling centers to pick the tab.

If the state is going to continue its policy adopted in 2012 of banning electronic devices from landfills, its recycling system must be expanded and stabilized throughout the state, the IEPA said in its recent legislative report.

"The safe management of e-waste will require a multi-faceted solution," it stated, as it recommended amending the existing program to provide a collection system that is available year-round and accepts all devices.

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It recommended that each county have collection sites based on its population. In Will County, that would mean at least four collection sites. In suburban Cook County — outside of Chicago — it recommended five collection sites.

Topics yet to be ironed out are financing the collection sites, making accommodations for manufacturers with retail site collections and mail-back programs and ensuring safe management of accumulated waste.

Keane agreed with the IEPA's recommendations and would like to be able to operate at least the four sites as recommended – the same number it had back in 2007. Will County has been a leader in electronic waste recycling — long before electronics were banned from landfills — beginning in 2000 with one-day collection events and growing to 13 permanent sites in 2012. She also wants to see manufacturers recycle more — if not all — of the electronic waste.

"Manufacturers just don't understand what is wrong," Keane said.

Lake County News-Sun contributed.

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