When you buy a new gadget, it often replaces an old one - and federal environmental officials estimate by the end of this year, the last decade's worth of so-called e-waste would cover Manhattan 3 feet deep. A new business offers a classic alternative to kicking that old radio to the curb at a new store in the L.A. neighborhood of Echo Park.
Rewind Electronics has a lime green front and a hopeful look. It's a store where Jen and Oscar Carpinteyro buy and sell pretty much anything with a plug.
Over the last decade two pivotal purchases brought them here – the first was a wedding dress. "Oscar worked in the cubicle next to me and then one day he invited me out to go to the Magic Castle. The romance began that night, I guess, we fell in love." Oscar chimes in: "The trick worked."
But Jen's the talkative one. "And it happened so fast and I ended up coming here. The woman was a seamstress. And the woman ended up making my wedding dress." Just then a customer comes in; Jen enters sales mode. "Hi, how are you?"
The store's 300 square feet. Back then the seamstress had plush carpet and heavy bolts of fabric – Jen says it seemed even smaller. Now with guitars in the window, stereos on shelves, cables coiled neatly on the wall – well, it's still small. But now attractive to people from the neighborhood like Richard Robinson. "The little flyer... where was it?" Jen says she remembers – Nicky D's Pizza. "It said Rewind Old Audio Gear. Ah!" Richard snaps. "I'm there the next day," he laughs.
A recording engineer, Robinson's a natural audiophile – on the hunt for some Bose computer speakers he saw a few days back. "I listen in my car and in my living room 'cause you need a different set of references to make sure your stuff translates. I should have grabbed them when I had a chance, but no, I waited too long."
Jen says the store has a lot of turnover; Richard shakes his head. "Sometimes you have to jump on stuff when you see it."
That is a skill Oscar Carpinteyro has in spades. After the wedding he and his new bride's mom got in the habit of yard sale shopping. "Ten years ago people were moving from L.A. and San Diego to Temecula and settling in. Big brand new houses," Jen remembers. "So they would get rid of everything and buy new things."
I mentioned two purchases that put the Carpinteyros in this store. Here comes the second: "Toyota tires with rims for $20. Four Toyota tires with rims, beautiful condition, and he ended up selling them on eBay for how much?" Oscar allows himself a proud smile. "I think it was $600 at that time."
"This man literally can find things that to the average person – especially to his wife I'm sorry to say – looks like a junky piece of crud," Jen says. "But for some reason he has the art of finding things."
Rewind sells electronics Oscar finds. I found them because I have a 26-year-old CD player that stopped working. Oscar says his stepdad fixed it; it was an easy fix. "On your CD player, it was just a soldering inside the unit," he explains. "Old items can be repaired. They can be reused, and they're beautiful pieces of electronics. They have a good vibe."
Of course, most people don't reuse old electronics, stereos or computers. Barbara Kyle heads the Electronics TakeBack Coalition in San Francisco. She says California's throwing away less stuff, but more of it's electronic.
Last year the Department of Toxic Substances Control reports e-recyclers destroyed, processed or shipped out 105 million pounds of old e-waste – not counting TVs or computer monitors. "E-waste is the fastest growing part of the waste stream," she says. "It's really a problem with no end in sight."
It's a problem because that trash tends to come with toxic parts or chemicals. California's one of 11 states with rules against dumping e-waste into municipal landfills or incinerators.
But the market for scrap plastic and metal from old electronics offers little incentive to do it safely either for the environment or for human exposure. "If you're making products out of materials that can't sell, that's a good way to make sure that they don't get recycled," she says. "If they break, they are more expensive to fix than they are to just buy a new one."
Oscar puts on War's Low Rider after I ask him what helps with sales. In Echo Park, the Carpinteyros are trying to offer another choice.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency says hundreds of millions of old electronic items are tucked away on high back shelves in people's houses. Some of them, Jen hypothesizes, must be in Los Angeles.
"We have people – pretty much every day – someone says, OK, I've had this in my closet for years," she says. "So I think a lot of people are becoming a little more conscientious and rather than throwing away a perfectly good unit they'd rather have it fixed."
Jen and Oscar hold a grand opening at their store tonight. They hope their storefront startup has big possibilities. That 26-year-old CD player's working again – so's one of my favorite CDs.
Oscar charged me 10 bucks for the repair.