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Kansas E-Waste Efforts Still Dust In The Wind

Kansas has had a few shining ecomoments, most recently on Jan. 24 when Sedgwick County collected more than 500 tons of e-waste. But any hopes environmentalists have of really cleaning up the state may be no more than dust in the wind.

Kevin Ferguson

February 20, 2009

3 Min Read

Kansas has had a few shining ecomoments, most recently on Jan. 24 when Sedgwick County collected more than 500 tons of e-waste. But any hopes environmentalists have of really cleaning up the state may be no more than dust in the wind.By its own reckoning, the homes, schools, government offices, and businesses contain 30 million to 40 million electronic products having an average lifespan of just three years. "While it may be legal to throw broken or obsolete electronics into the trash, there are tremendous environmental benefits to recycling these items," Roderick Bremby, Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) secretary, wrote on the agency's Web site the other day. "Landfill space is conserved when used electronics are recycled, and valuable natural resources like gold and silver are recovered. In addition, some e-waste, such as old monitors, contains heavy metals such as lead that have the potential to cause long-term contamination. By recycling electronics, energy is conserved and less air and water pollutants are generated."

He's right, of course. But it seems more than a shame that the state is woefully behind others in e-waste collection and legislation. It's not for a lack of understanding. Back in 1997, the state's Bureau of Waste Management began offering permit fee reductions for operations that would recycle material. On Nov. 15, 2004, to coincide with America Recycles Day, the state held two two-week e-waste recycling projects. "KDHE hopes to demonstrate that e-waste disposal is a big problem in Kansas and needs Kansas legislative support to fund an on-going program," officials said at the time.

No such luck. A brief history of Kansas's attempts at e-waste recycling was included in a June 2007 KDHE application form for recycling companies applying for a Solid Waste Management Competitive Plan Implementation Grant Program. It notes:

"In June 2005, nearly 50 people attended a Kansas E-Waste Task Force meeting on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan. ... The budget for this proposed system was $5 to $10 million dollars in start-up costs with an annual budget afterward of $2.75 to $3.0 million. KDHE would have administered this program in partnership with local governments and private companies with the Kansas Electronic Waste (e.waste) Collection Pilots Grant Guidance addition of only three new full-time staff. Legislation developed out of that meeting that was never introduced."

There has been some progress. In 2007, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced that the KDHE had awarded 37 grants to establish electronic waste collection centers and assist cities and school districts in the purchase of playground cover and other products made from recycled waste tires.

As of last year, "the No. 1 waste management challenge over the next five years is to establish a statewide system to recover e-waste for recycling," Bremby wrote in the KDHE 2008 annual report. "While the number of private businesses and non-proprofits entering the marketplace are growing, and additional e-waste collection centers will become active in accordance with state financial aid, much of the state will still not have any convenient way for residents and businesses to recycle this growing waste stream."

That won't change quickly, apparently. William Bider, director of the state Bureau of Waste Management, in an April 22, 2008, policy memo, notes:

"Based upon the success of the pilot E-waste collection center grant program, KDHE will work with interested parties to update this policy and develop appropriate Legislative initiatives or proposed rules and regulations. This will be an ongoing evaluation; however, the final assessment will not be completed until after approximately 18 months of center operations (late 2009)."

Until then, just more dust in the wind. And electronic crap in the soil.

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