By Alicia Green
When the Pennsylvania Resources Council noticed that residents had certain materials and goods that they could not always put out with their regular trash or recycling, it created “Hard to Recycle” collections.
“If we see the public in that position or we see a need, we try to fill it,” said Justin Stockdale, PRC Western Regional Director, in a telephone interview. “It started out with tires, refrigerators, which have Freon in them, and propane tanks from gas grills. It’s primarily today an electronics recycling program.”
Since 2003, “Hard to Recycle” collections have been held various times throughout the year in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Individuals can bring television sets, alkaline batteries, e-waste, cellular phones, Freon-containing appliances, tires and many other items to be recycled for free and, sometimes, for a fee.
This year, the PRC held six “Hard to Recycle” events with 4,372 participants. Approximately 41 polystyrene boxes, 1,232 tires, 417 Freon appliances, 508 microwaves, 1680 compact fluorescent bulbs, 2103 pounds of batteries and 526,248 pounds of electronics were recycled.
“There are options (for these items),” said Sarah Shea, PRC Environmental Education Coordinator, in a telephone interview. “They can be recycled properly. There is a value in them being recycled instead of being landfill. Some of the items we take, there are laws that mandate you must recycle them.”
For example, Shea said television sets are one of the items that are required to be recycled.
“You can’t put those out at the curb,” Shea said about television sets. “They have to go, and they have to be recycled in some way.”
“If you put your TV on the curb in front of your house, it will just sit there,” according to Stockdale. “There are very few, if any, outlets for those television sets in Western Pennsylvania other than our events.”
Stockdale said a new federal law was also passed that said propane tanks could no longer be refilled or used after a certain age.
“PRC worked with a local scrap metal company to find a safe and effective way to get those materials recycled,” Stockdale said after noting no one would take the tanks back.
The PRC partners with many companies, according to Stockdale, including NOVA Chemicals, the Allegheny County Health Department, Lanxess and Triple AAA.
“It really varies on why they’re interested,” Stockdale said. “It was a single employee that thought the program was important, and so they found a way to get their company to support the effort. And others, as in NOVA Chemicals for example, want to take responsibility for the products they’re putting out to the consumer. Others like the American Automobile Association see it as a great benefit to offer their clients or members. Their sponsorship gets their members a discount at our event.”
Stockdale continued, “By and large, those companies see the value in the services we’re offering and want to support them and make them available in our community.
When asked why the PRC charges fees for certain materials it collects, Stockdale said they are trying to make sure the consumer is aware that it should never be expected that these materials are free to recycle. He said in some cases certain materials have significant costs associated with them to be recycled.
“Our broader goal is not just to give away service, [it is] to educate people about the materials that they generate as waste,” Stockdale said.
While individuals have expressed how happy they are with the “Hard to Recycle” collections, both Stockdale and Shea said they wonder why there is not a permanent place to bring their items.
“Across the board, a majority of the people are very happy that they have an option for some of these things,” Shea said. “Even though people had to wait in long lines, they were appreciative that they were able to dispose of those items that they can’t throw away themselves. Sometimes people get frustrated because they wish we could do more for them. They’re like ‘Why can’t you do it every weekend?’”
Shea said it is understandable, but that PRC does what it can with provided funding and available staff among other things including timing and planning.
“We try to increase the number of those events,” Stockdale said. “We’re now working on trying to build a permanent collection place for those materials.”
Stockdale said it is more than possible for the PRC to have a final location for people to bring their items. He said it is not a matter of if, but when.
“We’re working very closely with Allegheny County [and the city of Pittsburgh] to see that become a reality,” Stockdale said. “Both are big supporters. They both recognize it. Our funders like the Heinz Endowments and the [Richard King Mellon Foundation] all recognize that while what we’re doing is very valuable, it doesn’t really solve the problem. They’re very supportive of us finding a permanent home for these programs.”
Stockdale said it is important for people to pay attention to the waste they create.
He continued, “People need to be aware that throwing a battery in a garbage can is not necessarily a safe thing to do just because they can.”
For those interested in bringing items to or volunteering with the Pennsylvania Resources Council, visit www.prc.org.