When state law banned municipal curbside pickup of TV sets and computers at the beginning of this year, it did so at the risk of unintended consequences.
The law is meant to keep heavy metals out of landfills, but it discourages recycling because only the most conscientious persons will spend the time and money to drive unwanted electronics to one of the few places that will take them.
Phil Garrow of South Oakland is one of those people.
He has a story of frustration trying to do the right thing and has investigated the issue, finding a narrow stream of possibilities and suggestions for the city. Check out his website: www.ideaspgh.com.
My colleague Anya Sostek wrote recently of the plethora of televisions abandoned at curbside by students moving in and out of Oakland, a problem made worse by the new law. Unless residents take it upon themselves to find a better location, the TVs sit there forever. Better could mean "anywhere but here," such as over the hillside, or it could require a schlep.
Several places accept unwanted TVs and computers: eLoop at 625 Plum Industrial Court, Plum; Ecycling Recycling, 11490 Perry Highway, Wexford; ABC-EZ Containers' Transfer Station, 1000 Island Ave., McKees Rocks; and, in the city, Construction Junction, 214 N. Lexington St., North Point Breeze. Best Buy stores also take them.
These are free services except for ABC-EZ's packaging and handling fees, from $3 to $20, depending on the unit.
"We package them and we have to store them until eLoop comes to get them," said owner Michael Barry.
Mr. Garrow had a console too large for his car so he rented a small trailer. There was room to also take the two TVs someone left on the curb near his home, so he included them in his trip to Construction Junction. Because one was broken, it was rejected. He had to return the trailer before he could find an appropriate recycler, he told me, so he found a Dumpster and heaved it in.
"I knew it was illegal," he said, "but I didn't want to put it on the ground."
If you put a TV in a Dumpster, the Dumpster owner has to pay a fine. Given the situation, most people would opt for that solution rather than a hillside, but both acts are illegal.
Pennsylvania's Covered Device Recycling Act required computer and television manufacturers to provide recycling recovery at no cost to the consumer by 2012. In 2013, it ended curbside municipal pickup of these products.
The state didn't complete the job of creating a better law. It requires manufacturers "to establish and conduct ongoing recycling programs that offer covered device collection opportunities at no cost to consumers," but it doesn't require retailers to take the products back. Every city has retailers but few have manufacturers. Where's the opportunity for well-meaning consumers in that?
Plus this law, like so many, is practically unenforceable.
The city hasn't come up with a way to help its citizens, either. If the point is to keep TVs out of the landfill, the city could make "TVs only" runs with its own trucks for delivery to eLoop or contract for curbside pickup for delivery to eLoop. The cheapest solution may be to give people a stipend to take electronics to a proper recycler.
Mr. Garrow suggests the city should pay scrappers, who are already out on garbage day, to deliver TVs and computers to a collection point. He said he proposed this idea but was told there would be liability issues. I didn't get a call back from the city to discuss any of this.
Meanwhile, more individuals are aware of the possibilities.
"We've taken in four times [the TVs] we took in last year," said Tess Kirchner, concept coordinator at eLoop.
Mr. Garrow has taken 10 TVs to a Best Buy store, all of them collected from the margins of his small South Oakland street.
"I hadn't intended to be a TV recycler," he said, "but this is what I seem to be doing."
The worry is that, to get curbside TVs out of sight, more people will throw them over hillsides. Dumping is a shameful practice that motivates hundreds of volunteers to go into deep ravines to clean up others' debris. It's ironic that a law intended to keep heavy metals out of landfills may inadvertently be increasing this waste to the land we live on.
That ground isn't lined.
Removing a convenient service, without making a convenient alternative that's truly green, is irresponsible. What I wouldn't give for two entrepreneurial brain cells and a pickup truck.