Public has need to be freed of tech trash

Consumers are eager to get rid of old TVs, computers and electronics piling up at home. But many don't know how.

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Todd Schachtman moved the cars along as people prepared to dump their old electronics in the parking lot across from the Mall of America on Thursday.

Photo: KYNDELL HARKNESS, Star Tribune

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A three-day effort at the Mall of America to collect electronics for recycling was cut short Friday because of the overwhelming public need to jettison old stuff.

More than 1 million pounds were collected before the company decided it was all they could handle, said an official with Materials Processing Corp. (MPC) of Eagan. The collection filled 86 trucks.

The event dramatized the pent-up need for free and easy ways to discard the old TV sets and computers piling up in people's basements and garages, now that it's illegal to put them in the garbage. The pressure can only build as newer and faster computers and state-of-the-art TVs prompt consumers to upgrade.

"People don't know what to do with their stuff," said David Kutoff, CEO for Materials Process Corp.

At 5 a.m. Friday, an hour before Day 2 of the recycling effort was to begin, 20 cars were waiting in line. Some were turned away when the operation was halted later in the day.

After the Mall of America operation was shut down, lots of people took equipment to Hennepin County's drop-off center in Bloomington.

Amy Roering, supervising environmentalist for Hennepin County, said, "We have had to bring in extra staff and equipment to handle the problem."

Many people showed up at the mall because of radio advertisements and live reports from radio and television stations, Kutoff said.

"Most people have never taken time to look where to go with the stuff," he said.

Options for recycling electronics vary widely, said Garth Hickle, product stewardship team leader for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Hennepin County, with free drop-off centers in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, and the city of Minneapolis, with free curbside pickups, have the best options for residents in Minnesota, Hickle said.

People don't want to pay

Some counties and communities have programs but some of the designated collection spots charge $5 to $50.

"You don't want to pay $20 for something you don't want anymore," said Susan Young, director of solid waste and recycling services for the city of Minneapolis. "You are willing to pay for your new, shiny TV, but putting money into what you don't want is really hard for people to do."

Minneapolis started curbside pickups in 1997 so that the junk would not wind up in the county's garbage burner, Hickle said, but some communities and counties have no recycling program at all.

"Anoka County refers its residents to municipalities and private companies who offer electronics opportunities," said Amy Altman, problem materials program specialist for the county. "We are working diligently to identify even more opportunities. We are in a rapidly changing environment."

Changes help things pile up

Several factors have combined to increase the amount of electronic junk piling up in people's homes.

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