Ask Eartha Steward: e-waste |

Ask Eartha Steward: e-waste

High Country Conservation Center
High Country Conservation Center

Yesterday, two groups of Summit Day Camp kids piled off a big yellow school bus and, in a maelstrom of youthful energy, headed out with us on an unlikely tour to check out where our waste goes, and how it’s recycled here in the county. It’s the landfill with the best view in the country, and there’s some really cool things going on up there.

Almost immediately, I started hearing whispers. “It’s like WALL-E!” exclaimed 10 tiny voices. My confusion must have been evident, so I was enlightened by one of the camp counselors about the new animated movie that the group had been to see the day before.

Apparently, it involves lots of robots and lots of trash, and although I haven’t yet seen it, it provided an interesting connection between the ever-growing problem of electronic waste, this group of young people and the beautiful Summit environment that surrounds us. It was good timing, since electronic waste was at the top of the list of topics to write more about.

As I sat to write this column, I thought about how different it is to grow up today than in any other time. This is a young generation integrally tied to technology, and while my stress level still rises every time I try to send a fax (could any machine be more deceivingly complex?), these kids communicate better through text messages and can diagnose my computer problems from a mile away.

Along with our growing connection to electronics comes the question of what to do with all the gadgets we collect. Electronic waste, or e-waste, is becoming an increasingly popular topic in the recycling and conservation world, and the ever-advancing technology and new products entering the market will force even more people to clear out their obsolete electronics.

Most common electronics, including computers, televisions, VCRs, stereos, copiers and fax machines can be reused, refurbished, or recycled here in the county.

Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of old electronics in Colorado end up in our nation’s waste stream.

This can have tremendous costs on the earth. Most electronic devices contain a variety of materials, including metals, that can be recycled. This helps save resources and prevents having to mine for new metals. Many electronics, including printers, CD players, phones and fax machines (my dreaded nemesis!) can be dropped in the scrap metal bins at the Frisco Drop-Off Center.

However, there is other e-waste which, if not treated properly, is a major source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing problem around the globe. Electronic waste represents 2 percent of America’s trash in landfills, but it equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste.

Because of this, some electronic devices aren’t accepted at the drop-off centers or in the scrap metal bins. Luckily for those of us in Summit County, we have the Materials Recovery Facility, also known as the MRF. Located at the landfill, they accept old computers, monitors, and TVs to be recycled. There is a small fee ” $5 per computer, monitor, or laptop and $10 per TV. The savings to the environment and to the health of future generations is immeasurable.

Listening to the Summit Day Camp kids chatter away about robots while they saw firsthand what happens to their waste, I realized two things: one, that they are a key connection to a more sustainable future here in the county, and two, that after a day of talking to kids about recycling, I was exhausted!

Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Jennifer Kirkpatrick and Heather Dodd Christie, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you’re wearing stylie shoes.

Submit questions to Eartha at or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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