BELLEVILLE — Jim Schnipper popped open the warehouse's double steel door Friday morning and turned on the overhead light.
Schnipper gazed upon the scene before him: a dozen pallets piled high with old television sets. Each pallet-load of TVs was tightly shrink-wrapped, but, for now at least, they had nowhere to go.
A sudden statewide glut of the leaded glass extracted from recycled TVs and computer monitors has forced electronics recyclers such as St. Clair Associated Vocational Enterprises Inc. to stop accepting those products.
"We don't know what to do with them," said Schnipper, who is S.A.V.E.'s operations director.
The surplus of TVs and computer monitors is threatening to overwhelm the not-for-profit group, which provides job and job training for developmentally disabled adults.
Outside S.A.V.E.'s warehouse at 620 N. Illinois St., there sits a trailer filled with 20 more pallets of shrink-wrapped TVs and monitors. And at the S.A.V.E. campus in Freeburg, another warehouse is packed tight with dozens more pallets of TVs and monitors, also with nowhere to go.
Up until now, S.A.V.E.'s e-recycling program has proven a big hit because of a state law that took effect Jan. 1 that bans all computers and other electronics from entering Illinois landfills.
S.A.V.E. started its electronics recycling program nearly a year ago as a way to take advantage of the landfill ban, using it as a launchpad to provide jobs for its clients. St. Clair County helped out with a $25,700 grant to help S.A.V.E. pay for modifications to the building's warehouse loading dock.
Problem is, the recycling of leaded glass from TVs and monitors is subsidized by big electronics manufacturers such as Samsung and Sony. And when they hit their quotas for the year on how much leaded glass they must buy back, the market for recycled TVs and monitors abruptly dried up, Schnipper said.
"It's a little bit of a shock," he said. "Everybody got into the market at one time."
Illinois is one of 23 states to ban electronic devices from landfills as a way to cut the volume of toxic materials in the environment and to reduce the share of it going into landfills.
The Illinois law banning electronics from landfills, while well-intentioned, does not take into account the fact that private firms actually lose money trying to recycle TVs and monitors, said Zach Morris, the co-owner of E-Scrap Plus, in Belleville.
"The biggest problem is most of that money is focused in Chicago," said Morris, who helped start E Scrap Plus in 2009. "Big companies up in Chicago with 500 workers are the ones who are seeing the money and people down state here like ourselves are having a hard time."
It can cost up to $700 shipping a load of TVs and monitors to a firm that dis-assembles electronics, "But we're not going to see our money for six months," Morris said. "It's a law that was kind of sloppily put together. The people doing the collecting aren't seeing the money."
Maggie Carson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said Friday afternoon that she was not aware of problems with the recycling of TVs and monitors, but promised to check into it.
S.A.V.E. is continuing to accept other types of electronics for recycling, including printers and fax machines, keyboards, computer mice and gaming consoles.
But at least until Jan. 1, no more TVs and monitors can be accepted. The root of the problem is the fact there is no practical use for recycled leaded glass from TVs and monitors, Schnipper said.
"Hopefully, one day, we'll find a use for it," he said.
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2533.