Beyond symbolism

The city of Durango’s electronics recycling event was held June 14 and 15. Exact numbers are not in yet, but by the look of it the two-day event was another huge success.

Beyond that, it demonstrated something applicable to other discussions: Residents of Southwest Colorado are ready – even eager – to support recycling and environmental efforts that offer workable solutions to recognizable problems. And if that stands in contrast to the push-back the city encountered with the proposed plastic bag ban, perhaps there is a reason.

With a kitchen scale, and a little help checking the count, one pound of plastic City Market grocery bags works out to about 75 individual bags. The qualifier “about” is crucial to that sentence, but the number is telling nonetheless.

The city began collecting electronics for recycling with a single two-day event in 2004. It doubled that the next year and since then has held two-day collections spring and fall.

That is changing this year, and this month’s will be the last such two-day affair. Beginning on Aug. 3 the city will accept electronic equipment for recycling every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at its recycling center.

In part, that change reflects the fact that as of July 1 it will be illegal in Colorado to dispose of electronic equipment in a landfill. That was part of the Electronic Recycling Jobs Act enacted last year with state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, among its sponsors.

But the need for ongoing recycling also demonstrates its popularity. For one thing, recycling electronics is not as easy as wheeling the blue can to the curb. Residents have to take stuff to the recycling site, which has been the La Plata County Fairgrounds in recent years, and then pay the city to accept it.

The fee ranges from $1 for a keyboard or mouse to $25 for a large television.

Yet the program keeps growing. People are that eager to do the right thing.

As well they should be. The material collected by the city is recycled by Natural Evolution, Inc. of Tulsa, Okla.

Its website points to a National Safety Council study that predicts more than 300 million personal computers will be disposed of over the next four years.

And, it says, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that today 80 percent of discarded computers end up in landfills. Given that Natural Evolution says computer equipment is as much as 6.3 percent lead, that constitutes hazardous waste.

If Durango’s collection event is any indication of the support there is for recycling electronic, Natural Evolution should be busy. People come from as far as Pagosa Springs and Dolores to recycle electronics.

With the two recycling events held in 2012, the city collected a total of more than 188,000 pounds of electronics or 94 tons. In the second of its two events the city’s haul included 550 computer monitors and 425 televisions, among other things.

Last year’s tonnage was a record, but not by much.

In 2009, it took in more than 173,000 pounds. And in the nine years the city has collected electronics, not including last week’s event, the city has taken in 1.12 million pounds of recyclable material.

Not only is that an admirable record and irrefutable evidence of a successful program, it is also something of a gauge.

This is what a winning environmental effort looks like. It is popular, serves multiple purposes and demonstrably accomplishes good work.

It also offers a bit of perspective.

To equal the weight of the largely toxic material this program has recycled over the years would require more than 84 million plastic grocery bags.

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