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E-waste recycling program in North Bay provides job opportunities while saving planet

E-waste recycling program in North Bay provides job opportunities
E-waste recycling program in North Bay provides job opportunities 02:54

SAN RAFAEL – The issue of e-waste has become even more urgent as demand for electronic devices surged during the pandemic. One local recycling program is doing more than just tackling an environmental concern, it's helping workers who are finding new opportunities.

Angelica Balam just got promoted to crew leader, working for Conservation Corps North Bay. She has learned to operate a forklift to transport pallets packed with electronic waste.  

"We're separating where the flats go. We're separating all the e-waste we get here," Balam said through a translator. 

A United Nations report states less than 20% of e-waste is properly recycled, with the rest ending up in landfills. E-waste is now the world's fastest growing waste stream.

"We don't want e-waste in landfills because they can leach. Minerals and toxic materials can leach," said Bruce Olszewski, director of the Center for the Development of Recycling at San Jose State University.

Those toxins can be hazardous to human health. 

Olszewski says lack of legislation and market incentives are reasons why the majority of e-waste is disposed of improperly.

"What happens then, because of the lack of domestic markets, much of that material is going to be shipped overseas," Olszewski told KPIX.

Conservation Corps North Bay workers helping recycle e-waste. CBS

Corps members understand they're playing a small part in tackling a worldwide problem.

For these trainees, many who come from underserved neighborhoods, it's a chance to make a difference in their communities, and for themselves while earning their GEDs.

"It's a lot of young adults that have gone through all kinds of stuff and come here. And for me to listen to their stories, to help them out and just be that guidance," said Jimmy Thornton of Conservation Corps North Bay.

"As they are here, over time they start appreciating the work they're doing and seeing the impact on the community. And even having folks walk up while they're on a trail doing work and thanking them, they develop that passion for the environment and see the difference they're making while they're here," said Conservation Corps North Bay Director Anastasia Pryor.

What Balam and her team collect and recycle on this day, means that much less ending up in landfills. But the gains are much bigger than that.

"The program is helping a lot by offering training, teaching them regular work skills and helping them prepare for their future job," said Balam.

Their work is reversing the waste stream to a degree, while advancing their lives forward.

The non-profit is funded by CalRecycle.

Residents and businesses can request free e-waste pickups in Sonoma and Marin counties. There's a limited number of corps members accepted into the program each year.

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