We're a city, a county and a country overrun by our expensive and obsolete toys.
What's the average life span of a smartphone? Of a printer? Of a laptop or desktop computer? Of our televisions?
Three years? Five years? Certainly not as many as 10, even though almost everyone knows a person or two who is teased for their regular use of vintage electronics originally purchased sometime during the Bush presidency.
As things turn out, that person might be in line for some environmental honors.
We're seeing more and more evidence of electronics, particularly televisions, being abandoned at various spots. They've been banned from landfills since 2012, and that's compounded the problem. The abandonment is bad enough when it comes at vacant lot locations. Piles of garbage turned the East Grand Avenue lot of the burned-out Aaction Equipment building into what neighbors called a landfill.
But it turns worse when a charity has to pay to dispose of electronics equipment dropped off as a donation. That's what happened recently at Blessingdales Thrift Shop. One night in late January, while the shop was closed, a person or persons drove by and left 10 televisions at its front door.
In our story last week by Claire Hettinger, Decatur's Salvation Army thrift store was also named as a victim of drop-and-runs after hours.
The store's assistant manager, Tracey Miller, recalled a Monday morning when she came to work and six televisions were left at the donation box, “and they a mountain of dust on them.”
Those kinds of drops are just the latest example of what thrift charities have dealt with for years. People are either unwilling or unable to dispose of garbage, and they may honestly think they're doing something for charity by dropping off soiled or threadbare clothing, or unusable furniture or other ephemera.
Then there are those who know exactly what they're doing when they drop off after hours. That's what really stings workers for not-for-profit charity organizations.
“If you are bringing a television to a thrift store, you are not giving that thrift store any favors,” said Laurie Rasmus, director of Macon County Environmental Management. “They can’t sell these. They can’t give them away. They have to pay for disposal.”
Ed Bacon, executive director of God’s Shelter of Love, said, “Essentially, what people are doing is robbing charities. I know that sounds like really harsh words, but if it costs us money to recycle those, there is a sense in which a charity is being robbed when (TVs) are dumped.”
That's to say nothing of the landlords who are left to dispose of televisions when renters depart from residencies but leave their bulky electronics behind.
Decatur residents are hampered by limited options for getting rid of items. Best Buy does accept some televisions for a fee of $25 each, but not all types and sizes. Macon County holds recycling events for residents at which televisions and computer monitors are accepted, but residents must pay $10 for each TV and cannot bring more than three of those items.
This is part of the digital revolution that no one really expected. Some electronics are almost obsolete by the time they get out of the box. Part of what makes those bulky items affordable – a drop in commodity prices – contributes to the difficulty of recycling.
This is one of the many issues we face as a society now where the price will be paid in one way or another. We'll pay to have bulky electronics recycled now, or people will pay with their health later as those items and their hazardous materials seep into places they shouldn't go.
In the meantime, the least we can do is not leave charity organizations footing the bill for our own carelessness and laziness.