E-waste Service on a Silver Platter

New York's new e-waste law will hold the manufacturers responsible for creating and funding a disposal program for their electronics. Photo: The 4th Bin

Don’t call them garbage men. Seated behind a desk of the latest Apple gadgets, donning pressed slacks and magnetic smiles, the guys from The 4th Bin are anything but that. They’re techies with a truck.

The 4th Bin is a startup company of a “bunch of IT guys” that are genuinely committed to reducing electronic waste in New York City by providing the only residential pickup service for consumers with defunct gadgets.

With New York’s recent passing of one of the nation’s strictest e-waste laws, co-founders Michael Deutsch and John Kirsch are at a crossroads in an industry that has been, for the most part, self-regulated.

“There’s so much about the [electronics] industry that people don’t know,” Deutsch says. “There’s so much e-waste. You’re dealing with hazardous product. It’s more than just recycling.”

In the majority of states, end-of-life disposal for electronics is left up to the consumer – a financial burden that many choose not to take on, consequentially resulting in landfilling.

But New York’s new law puts that obligation onto the manufacturer. On paper, the law is ideal for consumers. It alleviates the financial responsibility of recycling electronics and will no doubt result in more locations and outlets for disposal.

“The heart of the law is phenomenal, Deutsch says. “It’s the execution that everyone is worried about.”

For New York suburbanites, recycling a computer or television may be as easy as a trip to a local chain retailer. However, in New York City, the landscape is quite different, and for more than 8 million people, transportation will undoubtedly be a hurdle as a bulk of residents use public transportation or walk. Carrying a 30-pound monitor ten blocks isn’t just inconvenient, it simply won’t happen.

For the salvageable electronics The 4th Bin collects, it refurbishes them with new software for donation to local organizations. Photo: The 4th Bin

“We’re New Yorkers ourselves, we know how we work,” says Deutsch. “These people are out of the apartment 10 hours a day. The last thing they are going to do when they get home is think about dropping off that phone or computer. It’s just not reality. It’s a city of convenience. That’s just the way it works here.”

Exportation is another major concern when recycling electronics. After the 60 Minutes groundbreaking expose on e-waste in developing countries, the electronics industry could not turn a blind eye at disposal issues.

However, New York’s new law leaves out exportation. Disposal requirements only address keeping e-waste out of the municipal solid waste stream by using a registered electronics waste facility. And because an industry-wide law on exportation does not exist, it’s up to the manufacturer.

“You want to put the burden on the manufacturers because they have the backing financially, but you have faith that they will dispose of it in an ethical way,” says Deutsch.

“But even with a drop-off site, how do you get it there? And what do they do with it? Most of the time they crunch it and send it to a landfill, Deutsch says. “There needed to be a standard company that people knew was credible, which was our foundation in creating The 4th Bin.”

Deutsch and Kirsch aren’t micromanaging a team of haulers from a pristine office in Midtown. The two co-founders help drive the truck and move the materials themselves.

“What you see is literally what you get,” Kirsch says with a laugh.

In fact, the day this interview was conducted was the first day the two had not accompanied their team on pickups.

The 4th Bin partners with We Recycle – one of only five E-Steward certified recyclers in the country – to de-manufacture and recycle the electronics that are not salvageable. But around 25 percent of the items The 4th Bin collects are refurbished and donated to local charities, artists and organizations.

“We’re just a bunch of IT guys, so of course we’re going to use our strengths,” Kirsch says. “When the computer leaves The 4th Bin, it’s plug and play. You’re not getting a piece of junk. It’s a functional machine.”

Since February, the team has completed more than 400 pickups and reused or recycled more than 35 tons of electronics.

“Whatever we can do to help, it’s all about giving back,” Deutsch says. “We’re trying to break the perception of ‘garbage man.’ We wanted to approach this from the high-tech, cool way. We’re the good guys that are involved in the community. It’s our city too.”

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