Toxic Trade News / 7 August 2006
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Old computers don't fade to black easily
by Ryan Tracy, Trenton Times
7 August 2006 – As any consumer of the information age knows, it doesn't take long for a state-of-the-art computer or television to become more useful as a paperweight than as an electronic device.

Indeed, the National Safety Council has estimated that nearly 60 million personal computers will become obsolete during 2006, up from 17.5 million in 1997.

As more and more of this so- called "e-waste" accumulates, New Jersey's lawmakers are grappling with ways to recycle or dispose of it, and environmental safety issues are of paramount concern.

"A typical computer has mercury switches, lead from the screen, cadmium ... it's almost a who's who of the periodic table chart," said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Princeton. "And you have thou sands of tons going into the waste stream."

Even if the trashed technology is disposed of according to current regulations, trace amounts of the toxic metals can leach out of landfills or get past screening systems in incinerators.

Gusciora plans to introduce legislation that would divert e-waste from these facilities, instead sending it to recycling centers where it could be refurbished or broken down into scrap materials.

A lot of the components that make up computers and televisions, such as plastic and leaded glass, are "completely recyclable," he said.

While many states have already addressed the e-waste issue, there is not a consensus on the best way to approach the problem.

"The basic issue is how to finance the recycling," said Frank Coolick, administrator of the Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Program at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

"A lot of states put it on barges" and send it overseas, Gusciora said.

Indeed, the Web sites of advocacy groups like the Basel Action Network show pictures depicting piles of obsolete computers in developing countries like Nigeria.

In New Jersey, the burden would fall on the manufacturer to "collect, transport and recycle" the e-waste rather than send it abroad, according to model legislation recently adopted by the member states of the Northeast Recycling Council.

"(Manufacturers) in effect would be paying for the recycling of their own products," Gusciora said. "It also gives then an incentive to create less toxic products that are facilitated to recycling."

Another option, already adopted by California, involves adding a fee to the final price of the product and using the revenues to fund a recycling program, placing the burden on retailers, Coolick said.

Other states, such as Massachusetts and Maine, have banned computers and televisions from landfills, a measure that is not included in the plan proposed for New Jersey.

"I don't think that the landfill ban is an essential component," Coolick said.

Gusciora agreed, believing public education about e-waste would create voluntary participation in New Jersey. "We already have widespread cooperation with recycling laws," he said.

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