Project: Electronics Reuse and Recycling
Jurisdiction: Blacksburg, Va.
Agency: Public Works
Community Partner: YMCA
Date Began: 2006
Cost: $24,750 per year

In 2006, Blacksburg, Va., Mayor Ron Rordam signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, signaling the city's commitment to protecting its environment. The same year, the city received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Conservation Challenge to begin a Community Electronics Reuse and Recycling Pilot Project. The project was born out of city leaders' desire to significantly reduce the amount of chemicals entering the environment from waste.

Blacksburg's public works department started by selecting the chemicals it would target. "We chose mercury, lead and cadmium, since these were substances [that] were widely known to our citizens," says Kelly Mattingly, Blacksburg public works director. "We chose [to focus on] electronic equipment because they contained all three substances, and this equipment was present in every household in town."

Curbside collection was not feasible because the products are not weather-resistant, so the department formed a partnership with a local YMCA, which already accepted electronic equipment donations for its thrift store but often found the donations were unsuitable for resale and too expensive to dispose properly. "Our idea was that the YMCA Thrift Store could solve our collection problem, and we could solve their disposal problem," Mattingly says.

Residents now can drop off used electronics at the YMCA location for no fee. The public works department transports electronics that are unsuitable for reuse to a regional facility and pays for them to be recycled through a licensed electronics recycler. For the first two years, costs were paid through the EPA grant, and since July 2008, the project has been budgeted through the town's solid waste and recycling fund. For fiscal year 2008-2009, $24,750 has been budgeted. From August 2006 until December 2008, the city had diverted 82 tons of electronics waste from its landfill.

Read the main story, "Goal Diggers," to learn more about how public works leaders cultivate sustainable communities.