Elisa Sparkman, Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction Program
I suppose I could find a tiny bit of silver lining to the huge winter storm that affected Western Washington in January. The storage shed in my back yard caved in from snow weight and broken branches. And though the repair has been a pain, the past few months have forced me to finally purge some major clutter.
If I am honest, I would probably not have done this any time soon… or ever. Over the course of the repairs, I made plenty of trips to the local transfer station. With what I can only describe as a mini-museum of obsolete electronics, I became a frequent participant in E-Cycle Washington, a free electronics recycling program that is overseen by Department of Ecology (Ecology). As an Ecology employee, it is really nice to experience firsthand how an agency-run program helps reduce waste in the statewide community.
It’s been three years since E-Cycle Washington began. E-Cycle Washington is a product stewardship program. Product stewardship is an environmental management strategy that directs all those involved in the design, production, sale and use of a product to take responsibility for minimizing the product's impact to human health and the natural environment throughout the life of the product.
E-Cycle Washington is a manufacturer funded program that is managed by the manufacturers through an independent party, the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority, overseen by the state and is free to consumers. Since the program began three years ago, 140 million pounds of electronics (TVs, computers and monitors) have been collected, with almost all of this recycled. That is a lot of waste kept out of our landfills! In 2009, there was still 64 million pounds of electronics (all types) thrown in landfills. This shows that consumer participation is the key ingredient for success.
Programs like E-Cycle Washington pave the way for product stewardship programs for other materials and products. Ecology is working with producers of fluorescent lights on a product stewardship program for mercury containing lights, which will be available starting in January 2013.
Product stewardship programs are ways that we, as humans, can take an active role in managing the amount of waste and toxic chemicals on our planet and help pave the way for a more efficient future. And they can help us make more space in our storage sheds!