Old computers do not have to end up in the landfill and in Texas, they won’t. Thanks to new legislation (House Bill 2714) that took effect Sept. 1, all computer makers are now responsible for recycling their products.
Texas is the fourth state to have such a law, says Jeff Jacoby, staff director with the nonprofit Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE), which was one of the bill’s main advocates. The other states are Minnesota, Maine and Washington.
Companies such as Dell, Hewlett Packard and Apple, as well as mom-and-pop operations, are required to provide free and convenient recycling to their customers, or they will not be able to sell computers to anyone in Texas, under the law.
This is good news for Texas municipalities which will no longer be responsible for paying for computer recycling. Instead, Jacoby points out, these towns can spend their money on libraries, streets and police and/or fire departments. The law is the result of five years of discussion among state government, the computer companies, retailers and recycling groups.
With this law in place, environmentalists say computer makers will have an incentive to “design out” the toxic components of their products, making them easier to recycle.
Electronic waste not only builds up in landfills but it contains toxic metals such as lead and mercury, says Jacoby. “Electronic waste accounts for 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of the heavy metal now found in U.S. landfills,” he says.
The EPA acknowledges that electronic waste is a major problem in this country where only 18 percent of all discarded computers and monitors gets recycled. According to an EPA report, “Recycling 1 million desktop computers prevents the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of over 17,000 passenger cars.”
Since a 2002 debate with environmentalists over its recycling practices, Dell has now become a leader in computer recycling. In 2004, the Round Rock, Texas-based company, began partnering with Goodwill Industries to allow consumers to take their old computers to Goodwill, which then recycles and resells what they can. Dell also provides an online service that allows customers to request an at-home pickup for their old computer. In addition, they give consumers an option to donate old computers, again with an at-home pickup, to the National Cristina Foundation to assist economically disadvantaged families in the community.
Once computer waste is on the right track, the next step is analog TVs which are expected to become obsolete early next year. TCE’s Jacoby estimates that about 12 percent of American households still have the antenna TVs. Keeping them out of the landfill is another challenge for environmentalists.
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