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Electronic waste is growing

June 15, 2004

keyboardsSan Antonio Express-News
L.A. Lorek

Getting rid of obsolete electronics will cost San Antonio taxpayers $56 million by 2015, according to a report released Monday by the Texas Campaign for the Environment.¬†Junk TVs, PCs, cellular phones, and CD and DVD players will cost taxpayers statewide $606 million if actions aren’t taken to prevent more than 2 million tons of toxins from ending up in Texas landfills and incinerators, said Robin Schneider, executive director for the Austin-based environmental group.

“There are so many toxins inside computers,” Schneider said. “These toxins migrate from landfills and incinerators into our air, land and water.”

Government and industry leaders will meet in Austin today for a seminar on what to do about all this electronic waste. Getting rid of old PCs and electronics will cost about $80 per household, but those costs should not be paid by taxpayers, Schneider said. The environmental group wants state legislation to make PC and electronics makers take back products for proper disposal.

Two months ago, Maine became the first state to require producers of monitors, laptops and TVs to take back their obsolete products. California has proposed similar legislation.

Currently, Texas law does not prevent consumers from sending PC waste into landfills — and that’s dangerous to the environment, Schneider said. Each computer or TV display contains an average of 4 to 8 pounds of lead. Computers also contain mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals that pose significant health hazards if they contaminate groundwater or get released into the air.

And the problem of mounting computer and electronic waste threatens to get worse as more computers, TVs and other electronics get replaced with faster, cheaper and better models.

“Consumers have, on average, two to three obsolete computers in their garages, closets or storage spaces,” according to the Texas Campaign for the Environment report. “U.S. government researchers estimate that three-quarters of all computers ever sold in the United States remain stockpiled, awaiting disposal.”

Some manufacturers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have publicly announced support for policies requiring manufacturers to take back their products.

PC maker Dell, based in Round Rock, has increased its recycling efforts in response to consumer demand, spokesman Bryant Hilton said. In March 2003, Dell launched a recycling program providing home pickup of old computers, no matter what the make or model, for $7.50. For more information, visit Dell.com/recycling.

“We certainly do understand that producers play a role in recycling,” Hilton said. “We don’t have a problem with taking back our product.”

In San Antonio, Discount Computer and Networking at 5500 Brewster recycles computers that consumers drop off or that it collects through computer drives around the city. In Austin, Image Microsystems handles recycling for Dell’s old computers.

Hewlett-Packard also runs a recycling program nationwide that will pick up any brand of PC from consumers’ doorsteps for a fee. For more information, visit its Web site at www.hp.com/recycle.

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