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Cutting the Cord

Electronics recycling makes good use of old devices

For every new cell phone, tablet, laptop and gaming console that Santa brought last month, there is usually an old one to be dealt with. But because there is no Island for Misfit Electronics, these items often end up forgotten in a drawer, closet or, worse, a landfill.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“We take almost anything with a battery and a cord,” says Susan Sonday, owner of Emerald eCycling, a Kalamazoo business that opened in June and specializes in electronics recycling and destruction of digital data. “We recycle all types of electronics, including cell phones, computers, DVD players, games consoles, cables and cords.”

And just in time for the after-Christmas season, Emerald eCycling is offering a community collection event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan headquarters, at 601 W. Maple St. Equipment also can be dropped off there between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. the week preceding the event. Proceeds will benefit the Girl Scouts’ day camp.

The company joins a few other local organizations that recycle old electronic devices. Goodwill Industries accepts and recycles electronics, and Kalamazoo County offers electronics recycling at its household hazardous waste facility. Both take old televisions, which Emerald eCycling does not.

Emerald eCycling, however, does offer free pickup of electronic items in the greater Kalamazoo area. For outlying areas, such as Marshall, says Sonday, there is a small fee unless there’s a large quantity of items. “Often if there’s lots of stuff to pick up, we waive the fee,” she says.

Emerald eCycling also offers drop-off services at its facility at 5111 East ML Ave. from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and noon to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

One reason people may put off recycling old electronics is the fear that the information stored on them will fall into the wrong hands.

“That can be one of the concerns with dropping your computer or phone off at a donation center,” Sonday says. “I will say that they have the best of intentions and do what they can to take care of it, but you can’t be fully confident that the data won’t be looked at from the time you hand it over to when it is recycled. When we receive a computer, we immediately shred the hard drives -— you can watch us do it — and in this time of fraud, that provides peace of mind.”

For those who need digital data destroyed, the company shreds hard drives for $10 apiece and also provides a Certificate of Destruction. “A lot of people don’t realize that not just computers have memory — copiers, phones and other devices all have memory that needs to be destroyed,” Sonday says.

Sonday launched Emerald eRecycling after a career working at the other end of the cord. An electrical engineer, she managed electronic products globally for Johnson Controls. Many European countries have laws requiring sellers of electronics to have “end of life” programs in place to deal with obsolete devices, so Sonday became well versed in electronics recycling.

She debunks the common perception that old electronic devices are a gold mine of precious metals.

“To be honest, a computer contains trace amounts of gold and other precious metals, (but) a lot of processing is required to extract those. We lose money on certain items like computer monitors and make small amounts on other items.”

The company makes up the losses through its fees for data-destruction services and by selling refurbished computers. Emerald eCycling is a Microsoft-registered refurbisher. “We clean up computers, update them and install new Microsoft software and sell them with a warranty,” Sonday says. “It’s a lower-cost way to get a good computer.”

Sonday says, however, that money isn’t her only reason for opening the business.

“Part of my motivation is to keep stuff out of the landfill,” she says. “I genuinely believe people want to do the right thing, but you have to make it easy for them to do it. Our goal is to make it really easy and safe to be environmentally friendly.”

Marie Lee

Marie is the editor of Encore Magazine and vice president of Encore Publications, Inc. She’s been at the helm of Encore since October 2011. Marie’s background covers the gamut; she’s a former newspaper reporter and editor, a public relations and marketing communications professional, and book editor and collaborator. As Encore’s editor, she is dedicated to bringing the best things about the greater Kalamazoo community to the magazine’s readers.

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