Beyond the TV graveyard (Point Reyes Light, 04.02.2009)


Thirteen thousand pounds of electronic waste—as much as two elephant seal bulls or five Prius hybrids—were dropped off at the Dance Palace on Saturday.

For over eight hours, Jesse Alcala, who grew up in Point Reyes Station and owns All About E-Waste in Martinez, collected obsolete or broken electronics and used batteries from hundreds of people, for free. All the electronic scrap was then sent to ECS Refining in Santa Clara, which will either remarket or recycle the waste.

West Marin’s e-waste fit onto 24 palettes of Gaylord boxes. Alcala is paid according to weight by ECS, a local e-Steward. “Everything gets broken down and remade in California,” Alcala said. “Nothing is sent overseas where kids are out there working for free, and they burn it like it’s okay.”

In order to strip e-waste for reusable parts, some developing countries burn off plastic to salvage metal. Carcinogens, neurotoxins and noxious fumes are released into the air, and refuse from the fires often drain into waterways. “What got me are the poor little kids slaving away out there. They shouldn’t be busting their butt for nothing and not knowing that it’s tearing up the earth,” Alcala said. “All that stuff in the air and in the water they drink can’t be good.”

As a leader in environmental regulation, California doles out money to promote and fund e-waste recycling. The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 reduced hazardous substances used in certain electronic products sold in the state and enacted an e-waste recycling fee.

Retailers collect an advance recycling fee from consumers for hazardous e-wastes—such as TVs, computer monitors and laptops and portable DVD players with LCD displays—that have toxic levels of copper and lead. These fees are turned over to the state. Effective this year, screens between four and 15 inches are charged a fee of $8; the fee for screens 35 inches and larger is $25. On Saturday, Alcala collected at least 137 TVs and monitors, some brought from as far as Bolinas.

An approved collector and recycler with California’s Covered Electronic Waste Recovery and Recycling Payment System, ECS is reimbursed by the state. Besides car batteries and copper wires from phone and laptop cords, everything Alcala collects is sent to Santa Clara. ECS processes scrap electronics by shredding and separating the components—ferrous metals like steel, precious metals, copper, aluminum and plastic. The steel and aluminum are recycled, and the copper and precious metals are sampled, prepared and sent to a smelter. The alloys and ingots are then ready to be further shaped.

Alcala receives 23 cents a pound for TVs and monitors and two cents a pound for electronic scrap. He and his wife, Audrea, started the company a year and a half ago. His plumbing, sandblasting and construction work began to slow down in the past few years, and when he went to recycle some old TVs, he learned about the electronic recycling from his friend, Charles Hurtado of Hurtado Recycling. All About E-Waste is Better Business Bureau accredited, and Alcala’s fleet now includes a Ford diesel F 350, a Jeep Comanche and a Ram 350. Alcala attended West Marin and Tomales High schools, but moved back San Francisco in the 1980s. One of his former teachers even dropped something off on Saturday.

“When we got here in the morning, there were already five cars lined up. We didn’t even have time to set up tables,” Alcala said. The 14-foot rental truck made three trips, and all his vehicles were loaded to the top.

Sony VCRs, Olympia typewriters, big cell phones from the early 1990s, fluorescent tubes and electronic toothbrushes covered the parking lot. Boxes labeled “JUNK” contained VHS tapes and cassettes that obsolete electronics once played. There was also a centrifuge, a FIRARD II therapeutic infrared light for arthritis pain and an Oscilloscope Type 545A for measuring frequencies. “I would use it to make a submarine set for a movie,” joked Joe Trejo, Alcala’s friend who came to help.

“People have been storing up stuff for years,” said John Sundberg, who shuttled between the Coastal Health Alliance and the Dance Palace in his Highlander. “The temptation to dump it haphazardly or squeezed it in with regular trash gets greater with time. Something like this makes it easy for us to do the right thing.”

Unloading fax machines and vacuum cleaners, Trejo said: “I pictured myself just sitting here, waiting, but people here are really conscious about the environment. It’s a sign of the area.”

Alcala added: “A man collected stuff from friends out of town and came back at least four times. One lady walked up with a hairdryer. It was a really good day.”

All About E-Waste Event will be at the Recycle Circus at the Dance Palace on April 19.


~ by Janet Fang on April 4, 2009.

One Response to “Beyond the TV graveyard (Point Reyes Light, 04.02.2009)”

  1. Hi Janet, I edit a small magazine on electronics recycling and would be very interested in using your picture attached to your article. Is this ok? I’d make sure to give you a photo credit.

    Henry Leineweber
    henry (at)

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