eWaste worries

LIHUE — Stacks of obsolete electronics destined for oblivion were hauled to a refuse site near the Lihue Airport on Friday, their days of relevance unplugged for the final time.

A steady stream of people dumped old TVs, cell phones, computer towers, printers, air conditioners and a variety of other unwanted gismos into an eWaste pile near the dump.

“I’ve been bringing my old electronics here for a couple years,” said Al Hoffman of Princeville as he unloaded a bulky television set. “It’s a great convenience.”

But the eWaste service will no longer be available to residents after May 14 when Kauai County’s three-year contract with T&N Computer Recycling Services expires.

“Market conditions for eWaste have declined dramatically since the contract was signed, and state funding for eWaste ended on December 31, 2015,” according to a county press release.

Under the contract, T&N collects eWaste at no charge to the public every second Friday of the month and the following Saturday at the Kauai Resource Center, 3460 Ahukini Road. The recycler accepts, tracks, and ships the eWaste for processing to Electronic Recyclers International in Fresno, California.

Kauai County spokesman Mary Daubert said the county continues to explore electronics disposal options and hopes to have answers before the T&N contract ends.

“Then what?” said Roger Fenner of Lihue as he unloaded dusty electronics, including scanners, camcorders and fax machines, with his wife, Jenn. With the earth-friendly collection service ending, some wondered about future disposal options.

Electronic waste is a problem on Kauai and worldwide.

A report from United Nations University found that the world produced 41.8 million metric tons of eWaste in 2014, while a 2015 United Nations study found the U.S. is the world’s biggest producer of electronic waste, more than one million tons ahead of China.

According to Daubert, Kauai County produced about 400 tons of eWaste last year and it continues to be one of the fastest growing waste streams.

A report by UNEP titled, “Recycling — from E-Waste to Resources,” says the amount of eWaste being produced — including mobile phones and computers — could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade in some countries.

There are fears that without a place to recycle eWaste on Kauai, it could end up being dumped around the island.

“I’m just worried now that a lot of this stuff might end up in the landfill or in a vacant lot,” said Keanu Harris of Kalaho as he helped a friend discard old electronics.

In Kauai, the only items that are banned from disposal are commercially generated computer monitors and televisions, Daubert said.

“However, residents and businesses should understand that eWaste can be both valuable and toxic, so many people choose to hold on to it for recycling,” she said.

Meantime, Daubert said eWaste has not been a county budget item for several years.

“We are looking for opportunities to work with manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, and the state to develop a program without using taxpayer dollars since the intent of the law is for manufacturer responsibility,” she said.

With the afternoon winding down, Jeannie Isobe of Lihue was eager to dispose of her unwanted electronics. “I can add to your guys’ collection,” Isoble said as she emptied her backseat. “For now, I’m just happy to get rid of this stuff.”

Disposal services will continue from 7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. today at the Kauai Resource Center.

T&N Computer will also be on site April 8-9, and May 13-14.

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