What to do with unwanted electronics and appliances

  Most people are sitting on an old cell phone, a computer device, and a cord or two simply because they don’t know what to do with them. The Habitat for Humanity Restore has at least part of the answer.

     “We received a grant from the State of Michigan to host an Electronics Recycling Drive (to be held on Sept. 16th  from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.) where people can bring in electronics and computers we don’t usually take,” says Dan Laabs, Habitat Restore Manager. “A person might have an old stereo in their basement that has lead or other hazardous material in it. This event is an opportunity to feel good that it’s donated, gone and disposed of properly thus preventing contamination.”

Flyer advertising Habitat ReStore electronics event     Often, there is a cost for donating electronic waste, or e-waste as it’s called, but  “there is no cost at this event,” Laabs says. Habitat is partnering with the Midland County Emergency Food Pantry and is asking for non-perishable food donations. And “for $10, Resourceful Recycling out of Chesaning will destroy your computer hard drive with stuff on it right in front of you,” Laabs says. “It’s fun to watch them smash one.”

Midland Recyclers
     Can’t make the Habitat recycling drive? Other options exist for responsibly disposing of e-waste. One of these is dropping items off at Midland Recyclers located on Ashman Street at the City landfill’s entrance. Esther Williams, Executive Director of Midland Recyclers says, “If it comes here, it gets in the right place.” They do not take any light bulbs because they contain mercury, but otherwise Williams says, “We take anything that’s ever used batteries or had a cord.”
Esther Williams @ Midland Recyclers
     According to Williams, Midland Recyclers accepts cell phones and tablets even with lithium batteries still in them. Batteries are one of the most problematic items because they are toxic and can easily overheat, she says. They must be handled in such a way as to maintain safety and environmental health. “No one wants a landfill fire,” she says.

     “When batteries come into Midland Recyclers, even the bad ones going puffy, they are sorted by type (lithium, lithium ion, button/pill and alkaline), and some are stored in special steel containers outside. Batteries are then shipped out to places such as Call2Recycle and are disposed of properly. While recycling batteries is free, disposing of computer monitors, TVs or anything with a screen costs $10-20 at Midland Recyclers because components in them carry a fee when shipped out to a licensed recycling company." 

Computers to Go
     Although Computers to Go does not accept anything with lithium, Erich Lohrmann, Head Manager says, “We take anything electronic for zero charge as long as it has rare earth value,” meaning necessary components found in electronic devices.

     He says the store collects the e-waste people bring in and about once a month a recycling company picks it up, takes the electronics apart and separates the re-usable materials like metals and plastics. Different entities then buy these materials and they go back into making new electronics, he says. 
Erich Lohrmann @ Computers to GoBrian Taylor @ Staples
      Staples is another venue for disposing of e-waste. “We accept free of charge any electronic item we sell,” says General Manager Brian Taylor. At first, Staples took only ink cartridges, but since 2012 that list has grown to include phone and computer cases he says. Staples’ website outlines everything a customer needs to know about their recycling program including information about store drop-off, a mail-in option, and earning Staples Rewards. 

City of Midland
     Like e-waste, discarding old appliances sometimes becomes problematic. Jennifer Saldivar, office assistant at the City of Midland Public Services  Department, says the city offers a monthly large trash pick-up for its residents. “We take TVs and all appliances,” she says. “Whatever is put to the curb will be delivered to the city landfill.” She adds, “We ask that all doors are removed first to prevent kids from getting trapped and keep appliances away from mailboxes and the like.”

     Scott O’Laughlin, City of Midland Landfill Superintendent says, “If something like freon or refrigerant gets delivered to us, we have to set it in a separate area. A company comes out and removes the harmful material, and we then recycle the [appliance] carcass.” Washers and dryers go to scrap metal, he says. “Other hazardous materials can be correctly taken care of through the city-funded hazardous household waste disposal days” explained on the city’s website. 

Look familiar?
Habitat Restore
     People can also get rid of appliances at the Habitat Restore. Laabs says they take appliances on a regular basis as long as they are 10 years old or newer. “[This includes] any small range, microwave, coffeemaker, LED or LCD TV, or anything with hazardous waste,” he says. “No analog TVs,” however.

Shelterhouse/Salvation Army/Goodwill
       If an appliance or electronic item can not be easily recycled or properly discarded, perhaps it can be reused or repurposed. Kim Miller, Shelterhouse Director of Retail Operations says, “We don’t take electronics or microwaves. We do, however, take small appliances that our clients can use, such as coffee makers and toasters. Our clients shop for free. As they are re-establishing themselves independently, we help them out with what we have in the store.” The Salvation Army Donation Center and Goodwill websites explain the process for donating electronics and appliances in return for a tax-deduction receipt. Consumers Energy’s website outlines their appliance buyback program, as well.

Pivot Point
     Midland Recyclers encourages people with working appliances to take them to Pivot Point, a non-profit, located on Lyon Road.  Matt Markey, Pivot Point Manager, says on its website, “Our primary mission is to create job opportunities for people who have employment barriers . . . We receive donated appliances and teach people how to fix them. We then sell these back to people who truly have a need.” Pivot Point will also pick up appliances free of charge.

  Resourceful Recycling
  Lohrmann says Computers to Go also does what he calls refitting or upcycling. “Some small companies and individuals are still using outdated software and/or hardware, and they’re trying to run this stuff. We’ve been working with these companies for years,” he says. “We help them recycle their data and/or help their old computer work.” Computers to Go also pays for computer equipment they can resell. “I love the idea of having something that’s been brought into the store that doesn’t work, and we can make it work again,” Lohrmann says.

      As the opportunity to buy the latest and greatest continues to be tempting, there are  plenty of options for recycling or repurposing old electronic devices and appliances. Laabs says, “The best thing to do is to call us [Habitat] ahead of time to see if it’s something we take because government regulations change all of the time.” 

    Lohrmann says, “The better we can do for our community, for our environment, right here in this beautiful watershed, the better.”

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Read more articles by Amy Hutchinson.

Amy Hutchinson retired from the Midland Public Schools in 2018 after 32 years at Midland High School. During that time she taught Journalism and English, advised the student newspaper Focus, and served as department head of English and World Language, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, and Assistant Principal. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Central Michigan University and was a Gerstacker Fellow at Saginaw Valley State University. She volunteers for Midland County Senior Services and her church, the United Church of Christ. Amy works part-time at Eastman Party Store. She enjoys gardening, golfing, swimming, traveling, and cooking.