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Hampton Roads could soon have new option for electronic waste disposal

A pile of electronic waste.
Aijaz Rahi/AP
Southeastern Public Service Authority has a new proposal for electronic waste that will go to its board for approval next month. If approved, e-waste would go to a vendor to take out reusable parts and dispose of the rest. (File photo: Aijaz Rahi/The Associated Press)

Electronic waste is a tricky issue.

Items like computers or cell phones can’t be tossed in with regular recycling. Instead they often end up in a landfill, even though they contain valuable parts.

“Unfortunately these days, most electronics are built for obsolescence,” said Tressa Preston, director of administration for the Southeastern Public Service Authority, which manages waste for south Hampton Roads. “Your televisions and your computers and your cell phones, they’re designed so that in a few years, you don’t rebuild them or get them fixed. You replace them.”

Several of the cities and counties that SPSA serves started asking last year about ways to better handle e-waste, Preston said. Some already have options for residents, but they can be hard to manage or unreliable. 

The localities SPSA works with are Chesapeake, Suffolk, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Franklin and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. 

One issue is that electronic waste is heavy, making it expensive to transport. But SPSA has a proposal that will go to its board for approval next month.

The proposed program would allow residents to drop off approved forms of e-waste at specific events or SPSA facilities. The items would then go to a vendor to take out reusable parts and dispose of the rest.

“The specific advantage for our region is that they wouldn’t be going into the regional landfill,” Preston said. “We want to be able to preserve that space as much as possible.”

SPSA is already working to expand its Suffolk landfill, which it estimates will run out of room in about five years.

The authority expects to pay about $26,000 to buy trailers to accommodate and move the e-waste materials, Preston said. It plans to recoup that investment by charging municipalities $15 each time someone makes a dropoff with up to five items.

SPSA will look for a vendor but will not use a traditional contract requiring a request for proposals. Neither party will pay each other, Preston said. Instead, the goal for the vendor is to extract whatever’s profitable inside the e-waste. 

SPSA will hold a public hearing on the e-waste proposal Dec. 14. If approved, Preston said the program would start on Jan. 1, 2023.