As manufacturers pay for e-waste, local recyclers see huge demand

Hawaii’s new system for collecting old computer equipment and televisions is moving into high gear
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 4:58 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 5:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s new system for collecting old computer equipment and televisions is moving into high gear, three months after electronic companies began footing the bill.

By forcing manufacturers to pay for the recycling of e-waste it suddenly made profitable operations like E-opala in Kalihi and Mr. K’s Recycling in Hilo, where discarded e-waste is organized, measured, inventoried and packed for shipping to Mainland and Asian processors.

Jason Gruver is owner and forklift driver at E-Opala on Mary St. in Kalihi. He was lifting eight-foot-stacked pallets into a shipping container where two workers pushed them into place.

Gruver said even without advertising he’s already packed as many containers in three months as he did all of last year.

He pointed out a waist-high collection of discarded computers, printers, televisions and even high-powered computer servers, which he said came in on Friday and Saturday.

“Yeah, and it keeps coming,” Gruver said.

The new rules mean 50 percent of the new volume is printers and televisions, which weren’t covered at all in prior recycling programs, which meant consumers were often asked to pay to recycle old TVs.

Meanwhile, in Hilo, Mr. K’s Recycling is the big collector. The new e-waste program is doubly important on the neighbor islands, where limited landfill space makes it urgent to get bulky and sometimes toxic electronics out of the waste stream.

Owner Roy Kadota said people are thrilled that there are more opportunities to drop off e-waste, especially in Kona, where he is planning to offer two events per month. He’s been able to increase shipments.

“Instead of one container a month,” Kadota said. “We have sent out four already so the program is working.”

Kadota said people have been holding on to their e-waste because the prior government-sponsored collections stopped and started depending on available funding - the electronics industry support has opened the floodgates.

“What’s good about it is, it’s an everyday thing that they can, they can bring it down and drop off,” he said.

The companies are not as thrilled. Walter Alcorn, Lobbyists for the Consumer Technology Association, which represents manufacturers and large retailers, said Hawaii e-waste recycling is costlier than anywhere in the country.

“I have heard from several manufacturers that are losing money on the sale of new electronic devices into Hawaii,” Alcorn said. “And that is a concern. It’s not sustainable.”

Alcorn said penalties for failing to meet rising recycling goals could push up prices or reduce availability of lower-profit bargain brands.

“And that’s one of our concerns is the impact on Hawaii consumers as a result of future year implementation of this law,” Alcorn said.

An industry effort to amend the program was proposed but failed at the state Legislature this session.

The local recyclers see that as a scare tactic and said the companies don’t want to be pushed to recycle and spend more.

“We every year, probably would have to keep on fighting to have to pick as much as possible,” Kadota said.

Gruver said he didn’t know exactly what they are paying, but estimated, “When all this is split up between all of the electronics companies it’s not a whole lot its literally pennies per product.”

They also point out that once Honolulu stops burning curbside collection e-waste at the H-power incinerator, there will be even more to recycle.