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Environmental Defenders, municipalities try to keep up with demand for TV recycling

When Sue Jensen used to see TVs dumped on random curbs or in Dumpsters, she thought people were putting them there because they were unaware Illinois had banned electronic devices in landfills in 2012.

Four years after the ban began, Jensen no longer believes ignorance is the issue.

“I think TVs are on the curb now – or in the ditch, or in the river – because people are frustrated there’s nowhere else for them to put it,” Jensen said.

Jensen, a board member of the Environmental Defenders of McHenry County, sees firsthand how much the demand for recycling of electronics – particularly TVs – has exploded in recent months.

She and Ken Santowski, another Defenders board member who also is on the Lakewood Village Board, have led the effort to give McHenry County residents a place to recycle those devices.

A series of events has contributed to the spike in demand, including the fact that a Spring Grove vendor who previously collaborated with many municipalities went out of business.

Meanwhile, stores such as Best Buy that used to accept TVs have stopped because state law dictates they cannot charge for the service.

The Defenders accept electronics at their monthly recycling drives, charging 50 cents a pound (up to $40) for TVs and computer monitors, which is allowed because the organization is a 501(c)(3) charity.

Santowski provides trucks and other resources from the company he co-owns, Elgin’s Chicago Logistic Services, and the events are run by volunteers. The Defenders do not profit – the collected fees cover the cost of hauling and recycling.

“A lot of times, people just assume – why else would we be doing it if we weren’t making money?” Jensen said. “That’s why we are the only ones left doing it: We’re doing it because we care about the environment.”

The Defenders always have worked to fill a niche for recycling that’s not being offered elsewhere, Jensen said, but the influx of TVs got so huge last last year that the group reached a “crisis point” and suspended its monthly drives for three months to regroup.

The first three drives of 2016 yielded 34,000 pounds of TVs, they said.

Although municipalities also cannot charge for electronics recycling, several have worked with trash collectors or other companies to arrange spring cleaning events, only to see the events get swamped.

Cary hosted a recycling drive for residents on April 23 and anticipated double the 70 vehicles it served at last year’s event. The event ended up serving 315 vehicles, mostly with TVs, before the line had to be cut off with dozens still waiting.

“It’s pent-up demand is what it is,” Village Administrator Chris Clark said. “We’re talking about a lot of very, very large TVs, not just small televisions or monitors. ... It becomes an issue of safety.”

In McHenry, a May 21 event yielded about 30,000 pounds of TVs, nearly double its collection from last year, Public Works Director Jon Schmitt said.

Algonquin Township, which hosts a monthly drive for residents, had to institute a limit of one TV or monitor per household per month. At its April drive, Township Highway Commissioner Bob Miller said the line stretched down Route 14 from the Country Gas station in Crystal Lake to the Thornton’s in Cary.

“What happens is, you open the door, and my good golly, they just keep coming,” Miller said.

Those running recycling drives are hoping the state will come up with a better solution to ensure that all residents have a place to properly recycle old TVs.

For now, the Defenders are continuing their monthly efforts around the county. The group’s drives include one that occurred Saturday in Harvard and one planned for July 9 in Algonquin, and it is working with McHenry Township to host regular drives there.

“My goal is that everyone will finally get rid of all their TVs and we can go back to collecting light bulbs and Styrofoam,” Santowski said.

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