When it comes to electronic recycling, Will County has been a leader in the state, once having 13 permanent sites where residents could freely dispose of their old TVs and computers.
Now, for the first time, to keep its once-thriving recycling drive alive, Will County will have to pay for an out-of-state company to handle its recycling collections, which have been drastically reduced to three sites.
“We have been fortunate not to pay until now,” said County Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort Township, calling it a stop-gap measure until a legislative remedy could be worked out.
The county’s long-time recycling firm, Vintage Tech, of Plainfield, broke its contract Feb. 1, saying it could no longer make enough money from manufacturers to sustain its efforts.
The county received one bid, $202,900 from California-based Electronic Recyclers International (ERI), to replace Vintage Tech, which is expected to be approved at the Feb. 18 County Board meeting.
To keep the costs down, the collection sites were expected to do more of the work, which forced all but three to close this month.
ERI is requiring the sites to stack and wrap all electronic items on pallets, and have a forklift available to load a semi-trailer. Most sites cannot accommodate a semi-trailer, and don’t have the staff available to do the labor that is required, officials said.
“We have been successful because we had lots of sites,” said Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh. Now that more work is being required of the site hosts, there may be additional costs for those who stay in the program. He said he hopes to find some money to help these sites cover their costs.
Officials are concerned that with so few collection sites, more televisions will be dumped in ditches. County Board member Bob Howard, D-Beecher, said he has already had that problem in his rural area.
Residents can opt to have large electronic devices picked up at their door, but that fee also increased, to $75 from $25.
Will County began its recycling effort by offering one-day residential electronic collection events in 2000 — long before Illinois banned electronics from landfills in 2012. In 2007, the county partnered with local government agencies, such as townships and villages, to have four permanent drop off sites — a number that grew to 13 sites in 2011.
Last year, the county took in 4.4 million pounds of recycled electronics, according to Marta Keane, of the Will County Resource Recovery and Energy Division, an amount she believes will drop now that it is no longer as convenient for residents to recycle.
In 2015, it became illegal to charge local governments that operated recycling collection sites, with the intent that manufacturers would pay recycling processing firms, which covered the costs of collections.
“We paid nothing to recycle. It was fully funded by manufacturers,” said Keane, noting that part of the problem is that the value of metal and plastics is at an all-time low.
Recyclers want manufacturers to pay more, but manufacturers don’t want to, Keane said, adding that they are working on revising legislation to address all these issues.
On the other hand, County Board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, said, “Government should get out of the recycling business.”
Consumers should pay for recycling at the time of purchase, similar to the disposal fees they now pay for tires and oil changes, he said.
According to the willcountygreen.com website, all but three sites have closed or will close by the end of the month. Those remaining open so far include Lockport Township, 17112 Prime Boulevard; Mokena Public Works, 19004 S. Wolf Road; and the Village of Bolingbrook, 299 Canterbury Lane. All are open Monday through Friday.
As another alternative, Best Buy retailers offer free TV recycling with the purchase of a TV with delivery. Otherwise, it will take TVs through home collection for a $100 fee, according to the county’s website.