In an industrial building tucked behind the railroad tracks, the rejects are sorted and piled in boxes.

More than half of them work fine. They just don't have the bells and whistles, the crisp, clear pictures or the latest technology.

So Dakota County's unwanted electronics collect at the Recycling Zone drop-off site along Dodd Road in Eagan, waiting to be reused or repurposed.

County residents have shed more than 1.4 million pounds of electronics so far this year, everything from big-screen televisions and computers to iPods and cellular phones. Together, the electronics account for about half of the county's annual hazardous waste intake.

"Everybody's amazed at how much stuff we're getting," said Mark Andren, recycling coordinator for the site.

The quantity of electronics has steadily risen since the county started collecting them from residents at the Recycling Zone for a fee -- 60 or 40 cents per pound -- in 2002. And when the fee was dropped in 2007, in part because a state law forcing manufacturers to do more recycling boosted recyclers' bottom lines, the trickle of electronics turned into a steady stream.

More than 28,000 residents have stopped by the Recycling Zone this year to drop off hazardous waste, including electronics -- a 36 percent increase since 2007. And the number of hazardous waste drop-offs in 2007 was 14 percent higher than those in 2006. Also in 2007, electronics replaced paint as the hazardous waste with the highest quantity collected.

"It really shot up," said Jeff Harthun, Dakota County's environment management director. "A lot of that revolved around electronics."

But the surge comes amid a tumble in prices for many types of recycled materials, such as steel, that has pinched the industry. So far, the county and its contractors say they haven't had trouble moving electronics that come in to the Recycling Zone, but they plan to keep watching the market in hopes of a rebound. If prices for recycled materials don't bounce back, however, fees could make a comeback, Harthun said.

County discussions about renewing a contract with Gopher Resource Corporation, the company that houses and operates the Recycling Zone, have already included county contributions to labor costs associated with the extra electronics.

"Managing hazardous wastes in this matter costs money, and the better job we do of promoting this site and therefore increasing the amount of waste that comes into this site, the more it's going to cost," Harthun said. "You're kind of a victim of your own success."

But residents like Jean Fox, who comes from Burnsville every couple of months, say the Recycling Zone is a great resource. She has previously dropped off lawn chemicals and perused the shelves offering reusable items for free. Last week she dropped off an answering machine and a fax machine.

"They both work perfectly fine," Fox said. "I've just upgraded."

Most metro area counties offer residents free electronics recycling drop-off sites. Scott County will relieve residents of their electronics for 35 cents per pound.

In Hennepin County, where electronics recycling has been free since 1992, residents have dropped off 4.5 million pounds through October. That's on top of 5.4 million pounds collected at the county's Bloomington and Brooklyn Park drop-off sites last year. About 46 percent of the total weight comes from televisions.

"We are going to be watching to see what happens in February after they make the conversion to digital television broadcasting," said Amy Roering of Hennepin County's environmental services department.

Andren predicts that converter boxes might be the next popular electronic item to make an appearance if people try them for a few months then opt to buy a new television. But even without the digital television transition, he said the Recycling Zone would be plenty busy.

"Everybody's got a garage to clean out," Andren said.

Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056