Battery of waste-disposal options in county

Leaders are hatching new ways to make it easier for residents to recycle toxic trash than to throw it in local landfills.

It’s been illegal since 2002 for anyone to throw away what’s called “universal waste” — trash and electronics containing heavy metals, pesticides and other poisonous material. Trash collectors in San Mateo County made it easier for residents to recycle u-waste this fall by launching curbside bins for electronic trash and now are pushing retailers to offer their own bins where customers can drop off recyclables.

Ikea in East Palo Alto is one of the first local stores to do this, and leaders are holding up the furniture seller as a model for other local businesses.

“We’re trying to help consumers understand that there are some options,” said Kevin McCarthy, director of South Bayside Waste Management Authority, which oversees waste reclamation in much of San Mateo County. “We want them to know they can bring batteries and fluorescent lights and have them recycled.”

Compact fluorescent bulbs contain the neurotoxin mercury, while many household batteries contain lead. A single cell phone contains enough toxins to contaminate 30,000 gallons of drinking water, according to Leonard Robinson, deputy director of the DTSC.

The DTSC and the Environmental Protection Agency enacted new laws in 2002 that made it illegal to throw u-waste away, but provided a four-year grace period so trash companies could set up recycling programs. That grace period ended in February 2006, but lawmakers are still looking at incentives — rather than penalties — in order to get people to obey the rules.

“We’re not going to become the trash police,” Robinson said. “We’re used to regulating businesses, but with households, we believe that if we give people ways to recycle that are free and convenient, they will comply.”

SBWMA began offering curbside u-waste recycling Oct. 1. The agency ships its waste to Kinsbursky Brothers Inc., in Anaheim, a firm that sorts and recycles batteries and cell phones, according to McCarthy.

Although several businesses do accept batteries for recycling, Ikea is the only one taking alkaline [nonrechargable] batteries, McCarthy said.

Both Robinson and Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, said the next step is to get manufacturers to create products with fewer toxic materials.

“From the beginning, we need to manufacture products that are less toxic, that last longer, and are recyclable,” Ruskin said.

What is u-waste?

Local lawmakers and trash companies are trying to make it easier for locals to recycle toxic “universal waste” — instead of throwing it away. Examples of this waste include:

» Batteries (rechargeable and alkaline)

» Compact fluorescent bulbs

» Cell phones

» Small electronics

» Mercury thermometers

» Thermostats

» Pesticides

» Lamps

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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