How Do We Create a Circular Economy for Electronic Devices?
Since 2006 our electronic recycling programs on the Peninsula have diverted over 600,000 lbs of toxic electronic waste from our landfills, keeping many useful minerals in circulation. To do this, we partner with six different transportation entities, six non-profit and tribal organizations, dozens of generous volunteers, and a handful of other professional service providers.
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As Inletkeeper hustles to organize the many, many logistics required to move electronics off the Peninsula and up to Central Recycling Services in Anchorage, we consider more deeply what it would take to create a true circular economy for our electronics consumption. To meaningfully reduce the waste stream and mitigate its impact, there are layers of solutions: recycling being the bottom tier, slowing down production and consumption being the top, and repair and refurbishment programs building out the middle. 

 

This work is important. Sadly, electronics are one of the fastest-growing waste streams, and 70% of the toxins leached into our waterways from landfills come from electronics

 

Our many years of handling electronics on the Peninsula through our recycling programs have made it clear that many devices are beyond repair or too antiquated for refurbishment. However, many dropped-off items appear to be still functional or worth repairing.

 

Some of this must be addressed culturally — can we reprogram ourselves to be more content with what we have? Are our devices adequate to last a handful more years? Has capitalism’s promise of happiness through consumption ever truly been fulfilled? Collectively breaking out of our habituated and normalized consumption patterns will slow the churn of production and disposal, likewise exploitive mining and toxic waste. 

 

Culture shifts happen slowly, but widespread behavior change is possible through many messengers and messages. We are glad to be one of the voices uplifting this important conversation; nevertheless, Cook Inletkeeper remains focused on systemic interventions. 

 

Since 2006 our electronic recycling programs on the Peninsula have diverted over 600,000 lbs of toxic electronic waste from our landfills, keeping many useful minerals in circulation. To do this, we partner with six different transportation entities, six non-profit and tribal organizations, dozens of generous volunteers, and a handful of other professional service providers. Excluding staff time, the program typically costs between $17,000 and $22,000, at least half of which is the direct cost of recycling e-waste through Central Recycling Services. 

 

While we are proud of this work, we recognize that offering a once-a-year single-day opportunity to recycle electronics can only divert so much of our local e-waste stream and that many electronics end up in our landfills throughout the year. Our resources are limited by time, money, and staff capacity, as are those of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Solid Waste Department. To feasibly scale this program up, we need a sustainable funding stream. This is why we enthusiastically support Senate Bill 175.

 

Introduced by Senator Loki Tobin, SB 175 would create a funding stream for e-waste recycling directly from electronic device manufacturers. Mimicking programs in 23 other states, electronic manufacturers would be required to direct a small amount of their revenue to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation who would then appropriate the funds to local governments and nonprofits managing local electronic recycling programs. 

 

During a trip to Juneau this spring we had the opportunity to testify in support of this bill and to help legislators understand that while there are many logistics to manage, these types of programs are possible in Alaska. The bill will likely not be passed this year, but with the right input and refining, it should garner bipartisan support to pass in the upcoming years. If you have benefited from our electronic recycling program and would like to see it expanded, you can help by expressing your support of SB 175 to your Senator.

 

The final and integral piece of the puzzle is repair and refurbishment – often easier said than done. Manufacturers purposely design electronics to break down quickly and to be difficult to repair making way for their next line of products. Devices often have unique parts requiring specialized tools and repair manuals can be proprietary. We Alaskans have always been adept at fixing our tools, and making do with what we have, and our laws should ensure that we can sustain that practice. 

 

Senate Bill 112, the Digital Right to Repair Act, as sponsored by State Senator Dunbar, addresses some of these barriers. This bipartisan bill will empower the hands of our Alaskan communities all over the state with the right to repair these socially and economically vital electronics. Our friends at Alaska Environment have been dedicated proponents of this bill, to support the bill and their work, take action here. To find a directory of repair service providers in our watershed here.

 

Creating a real circular economy will be supported by creative repair and recycle entrepreneurs, legislation to hold manufacturers accountable, local governments, nonprofits like ourselves, and a collective commitment from all Alaskans to enact more conscious practices in managing our own waste streams. Inletkeeper will continue to coordinate the only electronic recycling opportunity on the Peninsula while planting the seeds for greater systemic change by advocating for a more robust and accessible local repair and recycle economy. 

 

Thank you to the many people and organizations donating their time and services to make our annual Electronics Recycling Program successful: TOTE Maritime, Weaver Brothers, ReGroup, Sustainable Seward, KPB Solid Waste, Spenard Builders Supply, Seldovia Village Tribe, Nanwalek IRA Council, Ninilchik Traditional Council, Port Graham Tribal Council, our business sponsors Homer Real Estate and South Peninsula Hospital and to every individual volunteer. This work is only done by, with and for community.