When giving tech gifts this Christmas, don’t just toss out the old

By Erika Wurst For Chronicle Media

Environmental and public works officials are reminding people not to just trash used cell phones and other electronics as they are replaced with new models this holiday season. Communities offer environmentally friendly recycling and reusing options. (Chronicle Media photo)

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

It’s a phrase we’ve all heard a thousand times, but Kane County Recycling Program Coordinator Jennifer Jarland wants to add an additional “R” word to that list.

“The word is ‘Re-Think’,” she explained. “Anything that’s in your hands heading toward the recycling bin, re-think whether or not you can keep that item in use. That’s the best thing you can do.”

As the holidays roll in and closets are getting cleaned, old electronics are getting tossed and basements get emptied to make room for the newest gadgets to hit the market and to be found under tree or in stuffed in Christmas stockings.

Where does all the old stuff end up? Most likely, a landfill.

Jarland, and other local recycling advocates, are pleading with consumers to change that fact.

“There’s an avalanche of waste coming down the street in our society,” Jarland said. “While recycling seems like the feel-good solution, what we really need to do is reduce.”

So, before tossing an old electronic, or ditching that too-small TV, figure out if there’s someone who will use the item, and keep it out of a landfill.

Oswego Public Works Director Jennifer Hughes echoed a similar sentiment.

“There are a lot of very strong alternatives (to having to recycle or pitch an old electronic),” Hughes said. “Certainly as kids age out of playing with toys, other kids are going into them. Sell them. Donate them. Social media makes this easy to do these days.”

Hughes stressed the fact that keeping as much waste out of the landfills as possible is key, but if that’s not possible, it’s important to remember that many items don’t just belong in the trash.

Since January 2012, electronic equipment cannot be collected with regular trash due to the landfill ban in Illinois. Because of this, local municipalities and counties are making it easy for residents to dispose of these items in a safe way.

“We don’t necessarily know the long-term consequences of a lot of the materials in electronics these days,” Hughes said. “These items really came into landfills within the last 20 to 30 years and we don’t know what will happen when the contaminates leak out.”

Joy Hinz, who runs DuPage County’s Recycling Program, has made it easy for residents to get rid of unwanted electronics nearly any day of the week.

Several counties have multiple drop-off locations where electronics can be taken for recycling, and at the very least, offer monthly or quarterly recycling events.

Hinz expects the county to collect more than 2 million pounds of recycled electronics by the year’s end.

“It’s a lot of electronics,” she said, urging residents to seek out refurbished electronic items before purchasing new ones to help lessen the waste.

“I think you’ll see a lot of electronic manufacturers have shifted focus to refurbishing,” she noted.

Television monitors do cost a nominal fee to recycle, but most items are taken free of charge. Visit your county or municipality website to find more information about electronics recycling options in your area and upcoming recycling events.

“You can definitely see the avalanche is getting bigger and bigger,” Kane’s Jarland said. “My job as an educator is to encourage you to re-think, reuse, reduce and then recycle, with recycling being at the end of the list.”