Wrangell’s tribal government is sponsoring an event later this week (March 30 – April 1) that aims to cut down on the amount of potentially toxic electronic waste that gets thrown away on the island.
Wrangell’s borough government doesn’t have a recycling service, so residents make do with a variety of private and tribal government-sponsored ways to cut down on waste. There’s a community compost area at the community garden, the local swim team collects cans for recycling, and Wrangell grocery stores accept cardboard.
Every few years, the Wrangell Cooperative Association’s environmental office (IGAP), funded by an Indian General Assistance Program grant, also hosts an electronic waste recycling event.
“All electronics – computers, laptops, TVs – have precious metals in them that can be reused, along with the plastics that encase them that can also be reused,” says Kim Wickman, WCA’s IGAP technician. She’s one half of the two-person office. It’s expensive to ship trash off Wrangell Island, and she says reducing what gets shipped saves money and space in the landfills down south. Plus, many electronics are toxic.
“As these electronics break down, they will actually start to leach certain toxic heavy metals: lead, mercury, cadmium, those types of things into the landfill, which will end up finding its way into different waterways, which then finds its way back to us,” Wickman explains. “So by recycling them, we’re keeping things that are hazardous from the landfills which will then keep them from coming to us.”
Another benefit is recycling precious metals that have to be mined: “The more that we’re able to reuse these different metals, the less mining we have to do to obtain them,” Wickman says.
After collecting electronic waste from Wrangell residents, Wickman says that waste will be sorted and put on pallets, where it’ll be barged down to Washington, to a recycling center called Total Reclaim.
“They will harvest out the precious metals so they can be reused,” Wickman explains, “Anything that’s toxic that could be inside of them will be disposed of properly, and the plastics can be recycled.”
The sky’s the limit for the variety of small electronics that can be recycled at the event.
“We like to say anything with a brain or a cord,” Wickman says, “So it could be your laptop, or your cell phone, pretty much anything except for vacuum cleaners, white goods like your refrigerators, even though they have a chip in them, we can’t take those – we don’t have the capacity for it. Or hospital-type equipment, those types of things are things we’re not going to be accepting.”
They’ll also accept household batteries. Wickman says larger batteries – like the ones in a car – won’t be accepted at the e-waste recycling event, but can be recycled at local auto or marine shops (Napa, Sentry or the Bay Company).
The tribe’s e-waste recycling event started around 2016, after Wickman went to the Southeast Environmental Conference in Ketchikan and attended a presentation on electronic waste and e-waste recycling events.
“And I thought: ‘You know what, this is really, really cool. This is something Wrangell needs,’” Wickman says, “Because we kept finding TVs out on the logging roads that people would dump or old computers that were shot full of holes. This could be a much better option than leaving them out on Spur Road.
The last time WCA held an e-waste recycling event in 2021, they collected more than 6,500 pounds of old computers, televisions, and corded household appliances. And again, Wickman says shipping all that metal and plastic down south gets expensive. So, for the first time, they’ll be charging Wrangellites to drop off e-waste: 25 cents per pound.
“Unfortunately, on our end of it, it’s not free,” Wickman says. “We have to pay to ship everything down south. And then we actually have to pay Total Reclaim to process all of it for us and it can get pretty spendy. So we’re hoping by charging 25 cents a pound that we can at least cover a little bit of our shipping costs. So that way we’ll be able to host these types of programs longer.
But Wickman says they’re also extending the event to three days rather than “cramming” it into a single day, so that more people might be able to find a time to stop by and recycle old tech: “We’re hoping we can kind of get things around people who are trying to be working on those days, maybe they can squeeze it in at lunch hour, somewhere in there or after work,” she adds.
If a rummage through cupboards and closets turns up some old electronics that can be recycled, WCA will be accepting e-waste recycling at the Cultural Center on Front Street Thursday and Friday (March 30 and 31) from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 1.
Get in touch with KSTK at email@example.com or (907) 874-2345.