Sampson facing skyrocketing e-waste cost

By: By Chris Berendt -

TVs, computers, printers and other electronic waste are piling up at two Sampson County sites, and it’s going to take a lot more money from county coffers — around $50,000 annually — to ensure it is properly discarded moving forward.

County officials are mulling their options, but for now, the Sampson Board of Commissioners has approved an amendment for a 30-day period with Electronic Recyclers International, Inc. (ERI) to continue its e-steward service while staff weighs options to bring back to the board.

That decision comes in the wake of a notification from ERI of policy and pricing changes that would boost the county’s fee significantly, a necessary evil due to the dropping commodity markets, the company said.

“Unfortunately, as you may be aware, market conditions have changed dramatically,” Kevin J. Dillon, chief marketing officer for ERI stated to the county in a letter last month. “The primary reason for this change is due to the declining global commodity market which is at an all-time 15-year low. The commodity market downturn is having a significant negative impact on the electronics and asset management recycling industry as a whole.”

Given the massive decline in commodities, ERI must re-evaluate and change its pricing, making adjustments to account for the falling commodity markets, Dillon noted. He enclosed graphs illustrating the price for commodities such as copper, steel, gold, silver, aluminum and oil have all dropped steadily anywhere from 24 to 55 percent since 2011-12.

“ERI came to this decision after much thought and deliberation,” he stated. “We have been hoping for the past few years that the commodity markets would turn around so we could avoid these measures.”

Dillon said he acknowledges and appreciates the county’s choice to partner with ERI — it first did so three years ago — and “we are hyper-aware that a change in ERI’s pricing may impact your businesses,” his form letter stated.

Assistant county manager Susan Holder said that impact will be sizable to say the least.

Electronic waste was banned from landfills in 2011 and counties were obligated to provide some method for disposal of that waste. There were very few companies who were licensed e-stewards as is required and ERI, one of them, was the lowest bidder. When it entered into a contract with ERI in 2012, county officials were warned the market for recyclable materials was already tightening.

ERI did not charge per piece, just a freight fee — $400 per site per pickup, or roughly $9,600 a year in the 2014-15 budget for the two county collection sites that accommodate e-waste at Spivey’s Corner and Ingold. About $4,900 is also received from the state to offset that cost.

Now, ERI will not only charge freight, but assess a per-piece fee for most of the e-waste collected. Dillon said commodity prices and legislative changes that discontinue the mandate for electronics manufacturer rebates have necessitated changes to keep the company in business.

“Unfortunately, because of changes in the commodities market that allows them to recoup their cost by selling the recyclable materials … they are no longer going to be able to not charge us per piece,” Holder pointed out. “This could increase our cost for electronic recycling by as much as $50,000 a year. This is a significant increase.”

In addition to the per-piece fee, the county will also be charged for the boxes and pallets used to package the items.

County staff has begun discussions with both the collection and landfill divisions of Waste Industries for cost-saving strategies, and sought a list of potential alternate vendors from the state to solicit other prices.

“While we seek the most cost-effective solution, we recommend the approval of the contract amendment with ERI to preserve our electronic waste services until we can bring the board a recommendation for a longer-term solution,” Holder stated.

Environmental Health Supervisor Perry Solice said the issue is one that needs immediate action, and will continue to demand the county’s attention in the future.

“The sites are full now, especially Spivey’s Corner,” said Solice said.

The county and vendor have the right to terminate the e-waste contract without cause at any time with 30 days notice.

Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.

By Chris Berendt

Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.