Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Don’t know what to do with your old computer? You’re not alone.
In 2009, Texas ranked dead last in per capita collections of old computers among the seven states that require manufacturers to take back old equipment from consumers, according to a report released this week by the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund. Click here to read the report.
It’s the first data available since the state’s computer take-back law took effect in 2008, and it shows that computer manufacturers recovered about 15 million pounds of their old electronics in Texas, or slightly more than 1/2 pound per person. In comparison, Minnesota collected almost 3 pounds of computer equipment per person in the first year of its program, plus more than 3 pounds of televisions and other electronic equipment, called e-waste.
“The Texas law is very specific and very limited to just individual home-based computers,” said Jeffrey Jacoby, TCE Fund program director in Dallas.
Some states also require manufacturers to take back electronic equipment from small businesses, small nonprofits and school districts that use their brands, Jacoby said. Oregon, Washington and Rhode Island require firms to set up collection sites in every county and city with 10,000 people or more.
In total, 20 states and New York City have either active or pending take-back laws for electronics, Jacoby said.*
In Texas, Round Rock-based computer maker Dell dominated the state’s computer take-back program last year, collecting almost 85 percent of the total.
Dell’s program was more effective than those of other manufacturers because it developed a partnership with Goodwill Industries and retailer Staples. Through the Dell Reconnect program, Goodwill accepts at no cost any brand of computer from consumers at its outlets statewide. Staples accepts Dell computers at its Texas locations at no charge. (The retailer will take back other brands for a $10 recycling fee.)
Most other computer manufacturers fulfill their obligations in Texas by offering a no-cost mail-back program in which consumers request or print out a mailing label, receive shipping materials and drop off their old computer at a shipping service. Jacoby said this method has been less effective, resulting in poor showings by the manufacturers on their recycling efforts.
For example, Hewlett-Packard reclaimed 4.6 percent of the state’s total, or around 688,000 pounds of its equipment last year, Jacoby said. HP had a drop-off program with Staples through the first half of last year but canceled it and used the mail-back option the rest of the year.
“The bare-bones Texas legislation evidently didn’t inspire companies to get out there and recycle our old electronic junk the same way other state laws did,” Jacoby said.
Tarrant County residents have multiple ways to drop off any brand of computer, along with any other household electronics, through Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth, said Ray Jones, senior vice president of electronic technology and refurbishing.
“We have a pretty big program with Dell,” Jones said. “In the first four months of this year alone, we’ve processed and recycled more than 624,000 pounds of computer components.”
Goodwill also partners with the cities of Fort Worth, Arlington, Denton and Grand Prairie to recycle any electronics that consumers bring to their dump sites, Jones said. That arrangement costs the city nothing for its e-waste recycling and allows Goodwill to expand its collection efforts beyond its 17 area stores.
Other drop-off stations in the Goodwill program include Arlington’s landfill at 800 Mosier Valley Road and three sites in Fort Worth: 5150 Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway, 2400 Brennan Ave. and 6260 Old Hemphill Road.
“It’s no charge to consumers, and they’ll get a donation receipt from us,” Jones said.
Jones said his staff will erase the computer’s hard drive of any stored data three times before refurbishing or recycling it.
“If we can’t do it electronically, we’ll drill a hole through the hard drive,” he said. Dell also randomly inspects recycled items to make sure information is deleted, Jones added.
Much of the old equipment is resold through Goodwill stores, Jones said. If it can’t be refurbished, it is torn down to its components and distributed to recyclers. Metal from computers, flash drives and monitors is sent back to Dell, which pays Goodwill a processing fee.
Lack of awareness of electronic-recycling programs is a big problem, said Kim Mote, Fort Worth’s assistant director of environmental management.
“A lot of people hold on to their old electronics,” he said. “They’re not sure what to do with them.”
But enough are getting dumped to make it the nation’s fastest-growing consumer waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There are a lot of hazardous materials in electronics,” Mote said. “Older monitors have a lot of lead in their cabinets. Computers have plastic flame-resistant chemicals that break down. There’s cadmium and mercury. They come into landfills and get crushed and broken down, buried and then can leach into the soil and groundwater. It’s stuff you don’t want in our landfills.”
The TCE Fund report recommends that the Legislature expand the law in 2011 to require manufacturers to take back equipment from small businesses and school districts as well as add a TV take-back requirement. A bill for TVs was passed in 2009 but vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.
*One point of clarification: twenty states plus NYC already passed their legislation (though not all twenty have implemented the program yet), with an additional nine considering takeback legislation this year.