Unbeknownst to most Los Angeles residents, it's illegal to throw used batteries into the trash. Those, as well as "singing" greeting cards, mercury thermometers, sneakers with flashing lights, CFL lightbulbs, and microwaves along with most other electronic appliances, should be taken to a S.A.F.E. (Solvents/ Automotive/ Flammables/ Electronics) Center.
I'm all for government efforts to keep mercury and other toxins out of our environment. The problem, however, is that of education and access. Many -- if not most -- people don't know what they shouldn't just toss into the black trash bins headed to landfills. And even when they do, finding and getting to a S.A.F.E. Center's hard enough to discourage them from making use of that knowledge.
Try to wade through the city sites, and you'll be clicking for a while. Still, the information is at least out there: the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation has its list here. In Los Angeles proper, we have three S.A.F.E. Centers (Playa Del Rey, San Pedro, and Sun Valley also have a S.A.F.E. Center each). Santa Monica has one Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Center. Best of all, drop-off's free at both S.A.F.E. and HHW centers for residents!
But the bad news: Most of the S.A.F.E. Centers are only open on the weekends, usually during very limited hours. The West LA S.A.F.E. Center, for example, only accepts e-waste from 8 am - 2 pm on Saturdays. Santa Monica's HHW center's open Wed. - Sat., but only until 1 pm on most days. Basically, all the different centers have individual, somewhat random, days and hours of operation.
This means that, after doing some dedicated internet research to find out where e-waste can be taken, the average resident then has to strategically plan a special, strategically-timed visit to an e-waste collection center. You have to really, really want to recycle your e-waste if you're going to jump through the hoops and hurdles to do so.
As the people at eWasteInsights have noted in the past: “One thing that the solid waste industry has learned over time — the options have to be convenient, and people have to know about them.”
One company, California Recycles, is trying to make this happen. This women-owned and operated business says it "wants to make recycling electronics so easy that you’ll make it a part of your everyday routine." In fact, the company's so dedicated to its cause that it runs its own free (for individuals) drop-off center in West Los Angeles -- and it's actually open regular hours! Individuals can stop by any Mon. - Fri. between 8:30 am - 5 pm. This in itself is a big step up from the local government programs.
However, even the California Recycles' website can't exactly be called user-friendly. It boasts both mail-in and pick-up options for individuals and businesses trying to dispose of e-waste -- but gives few relevant details. No rates are posted for the pick-up service, which I'm betting will keep most people from considering the service altogether. Those who want to mail in their junk won't be able to find a mail-in address, or find out if the service is free. The site as a whole is rather unprofessional, with lots of major typos (What does "drop-offs are out central location are still free" mean?).
We Angelenos will have to work seriously toward creating a more unified, simplified e-waste recycling program. In the meantime, perhaps the most comprehensive source of information for recycling at the moment is the earth911 site. Plug in your zip on the top left hand corner, click on "Household Hazardous Waste" on the left sidebar, then click on the item you want to recycle to get a list of nearby facilities. The site has some real quirks -- neither the West LA S.A.F.E. Center nor the California Recycles drop-off center are listed for some reason -- but it at least quickly gives the layperson an idea of what her recycling options are --