SHADY HILLS - My introduction to Pasco County's e-waste recycling program began - oh, how do these things ever begin? In a condition of denial, mostly.
Quite out of the blue, the Dell computer monitor at my Wesley Chapel work station refused to illuminate at start-up, remaining dark against every combination of key strokes or mouse clicks. Only by toggling its power button - on, off, on - would it flicker to life.
This was annoying but endurable, considering all the deadlines we'd stretched together. We were partners. A team. But as weeks wore on, the toggling process expanded until, in the end, success required going through the on-off-on ritual 40 or more times.
It was time to move on, a decision supported by the Tribune's downtown IT guys. Bad sleep function, came the remote diagnosis. They'd seen this sort of thing before. "We'll send you a replacement."
Perhaps unappreciative of its innate Tonto-Robin-Cato sidekick qualities, they declined the return of the monitor with the Rip Van Winkle sleep disorder. This is how I wound up driving last week to Pasco's electronics recycling outpost, a postage stamp on the northwest corner of the county's vast solid waste facility brooding on Hays Road.
Getting there requires some explaining of its own. For openers, do not trust your GPS, which will direct you through the main gate - the one nearest Bishop McLaughlin High School, the incinerator and the what-is-that-stench sewer treatment plant - when the gate you want is farther along, beyond the road's east-west jog to where it resumes its north-south course.
There you will find 28-year-old Mickey McGee, from Plant City via Zephyrhills, who ushers obsolete electronics of all sorts into new lives or ecologically sustainable oblivion. McGee's boss is Charley Ryburn, 56, who oversees Pasco's hazardous waste disposal, a responsibility that falls under the jurisdiction of the utilities department.
This day both are in the company of Jim Lawler, 53, vice president of Tampa-based Quicksilver Recycling Services, which handles the vast bulk of gadgetry flowing through Pasco's e-waste program. In 2011-2012, this amounted to nearly 700 tons of TVs, computers (both laptops and desktops), cellphones, gaming consoles, monitors and who knows what else. Earlier, someone had dropped off avionic instruments from some unknown airplane.
Most of it is inoperable, but some of it has simply been deposed by something newer. "Our biggest month," Ryburn says, "is January. People bring in the old TV and the box the new one came in."
Mostly, however, stuff arrives that has been relegated, perhaps for years, to a closet or a garage corner, succumbing only to redecorating or relocation. Folks in the solid waste business call this clinging "attic mentality," the practice of hanging on to utterly obsolete or otherwise useless things for reasons hard to explain.
"People have a thing about their first computers," Ryburn says. "It doesn't matter if it's an old 386 that can't run anything, they keep it."
"Maybe," says Lawler, "it's because they remember how much they paid for it."
The earliest cellphones - those black bricks "with 10-foot antennas," says McGee, dramatically tugging on an invisible telescoping aerial - essentially have worked through the system. The latest wave consists of flip phones, slide phones and Blackberries. Lots of Blackberries, says Ryburn. But TVs predating mobile communication still turn up in dominating numbers. Go figure.
Ryburn likes the program because it keeps heavy metals from going up the incinerator chimney or leaching into the ground water. Lawler likes the program because recovering those same materials, though labor intensive, is still cheaper than mining. McGee likes it because you never know what you're going to see next.
And I like it because they promised to be gentle with my sleepy old Dell monitor.