Entering an Electronic Wasteland Statewide Solution Sought for Disposal of Old Devices

Article excerpt

Byline: Mick Zawislak Daily Herald Staff Writer

That old computer system gathering dust in the basement is a relic, too slow and primitive to be of much use, let alone worth anything.

With advances in technology, computers can quickly become useless. The system you spent $2,000 on a few years ago might now be worth only a few hundred dollars.

The same can be said for your first cell phone or dinosaur television set - casualties of advancing technology and now just electronic waste.

So what can you do with aged, outdated computer equipment?

There are options: Donate it to a not-for-profit agency, take it to a store that recycles the parts, or in some cases, send it back to the manufacturer for a fee.

But those opportunities are few and far between and come with limitations. Some outlets will only accept newer models. Others may take the computer but charge you to accept the monitor.

And then there's concern about what's inside the machines.

The glass in computer monitors contains as much as eight pounds of lead. Mercury, chromium and cadmium - all of which can be harmful to people and the environment - also can be found in printers, keyboards and laptops.

As more of that equipment ends up on the curb with the household trash, pressure is mounting to find a better way to deal with millions of machines that become obsolete.

"The demand is there. Residents and businesses are beginning to wonder what the recycling options are for waste electronics," said Kevin Dixon, director of the DuPage County solid waste division.

It's a concern not only for consumers who overrun occasional electronic collection days but for state agencies and elected officials who want to find a blanket solution.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, for example, will be soliciting proposals in the next few weeks from companies to collect computers and other electronics, take them apart for re-use or recycling and properly dispose of any unusable parts.

"The message is out. It's just a matter of time," said Sam Al- Basha, an engineer in DCCA's bureau of energy and recycling.

Besides toxic materials, however, electronic components also can contain precious metals such as gold and silver. The garbage and recycling industry and electronics manufacturers also have stakes in what some regard as the new generation of recycling.

"It's not going to go away. It's going to get bigger and bigger," said state Rep. John Phillip Novak, chairman of the Illinois House Environment Committee.

The Bradley Democrat had proposed a ban on computer monitors in landfills, as is done in Massachusetts.

But Novak changed course March 8 after meeting with Thomas Skinner, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Recycling might be a better option than new law, Novak said. Instead he plans to introduce a resolution directing the IEPA to look at the issue and recommend ways to recycle electronics, particularly monitors.

"When you start prohibiting things from going into the landfill without having a viable marketplace for these goods, you end up creating a huge headache for yourself," agreed Andy Quigley, executive director of the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, who has met with Novak and Skinner. …