Earth Day and EWaste in Vermont

On Earth Day tomorrow Good Point Recycling is getting recognized for some out-of-the box thinking on ways to lower the costs of electronics recycling in the Champlain Valley.

We started in 2001 by collecting used computers, only, for 21 cents per pound, and employed just a few job training staff from a local counseling service. We trucked just about everything down to a larger CRT recycling company in Massachusetts, but sorted the material and did light work to earn a better rate.

We started with one-day events in Addison County, Lamoille River, and Mad River Solid Waste Districts. When they saw we could do the work, more districts called us. Pretty soon all the counties in Vermont had outgrown the "one day event" programs and started collecting computers as a regular part of their district solid waste management programs.

As we promoted the larger cities to permanent collection and moved the "events" to rural areas, we found new efficiences, and were able to reinvest savings or pass cuts on to clients. Eliminating the reliance on events also eliminated a lot of bottlenecks and allowed us to set up milk runs and regular collection routes, and to plan on training more Vermonters to do more of the work here in Middlebury. As our costs came down, we added TVs, first at the same rate as computers, and then later dropping our rates to 18 cents per pound in 2004.

By 2007 we only had to do "Events" for promotional reasons, when a sponsor wanted to show they cared and take on some of the costs. Free recycling is like free ice cream day (today) at Ben and Jerry's - a lot of fun, and long lines, but not really sustainable. When the kudos are handed out, the hard work lasts all winter.

Good Point Recycling eventually included transportation in the costs, and got our door price (for material delivered straight to our dock in Middlebury) down to 12 cents for TVs, monitors and computers. Word got out, and last year we managed 2,008 TONS of e-waste, from all the states of New England and New York as well. Today we collected for an event in Lake Placid, tomorrow Massena, we collect in Montreal, Connecticut, and hopefully next weekend in Long Island New York.

Today Good Point Recycling has 50,000 s.f. of warehouse, 5 trucks, 20 staff, and is a consultant for the federal government, OEMs and overseas. But we haven't forgotten our mission - helping Vermont job trainees, helping reduce the "digital divide", helping to set Fair Trade standards for world recycling programs.

The big obstacles are the General Mining Act of 1872, which subsidizes the mining of copper, aluminum, gold, paladium, and other metals we recycle... at the cost of bankrupting Superfund (hard rock mining produces 45% of all toxics released by all USA industries). Then the "export everything" companies, which don't hire the people to check and test used electronics, and pass "toxics along for the ride". And now we are having to navigate between big out of state companies which are looking at our Vermont program and wondering how we got where we are.

This is the hardest year to stay in business. Scrap prices during the past six months fell to pre-world war II levels. One of the sponsors of our largest recycling event of 2008 flatly refused to pay more than 9 cents per pound, and hired an out of state company (for 25 cents per pound) when we begged on hands and knees for the balance (to 12 cents) in 2009. They seem really proud to pay the out of state company $60k for the work we asked $33k for. Fortunately, that is rare. Every other Vermont client has paid their bills and worked with us to compromise on costs and figure out ways to create a win-win. Although our environnmental costs, insurance costs, and overhead are high, we find that most of our clients don't try to get a free lunch, and in return we help them out whenever they can.

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