Recycling E-Waste: Coping with Techno Turnover

By Mattson, Marcia | The Florida Times Union, February 4, 2003 | Go to article overview

Recycling E-Waste: Coping with Techno Turnover


Mattson, Marcia, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Marcia Mattson, Times-Union staff writer

The warehouse of Jack's Recycling in Springfield is piled high with computer monitors and televisions.

They are e-waste -- recycling lingo for obsolete electronics. Some are just a few years old. But as technology changes ever more quickly, Americans want the latest and greatest, and the old stuff has to go somewhere.

The biggest nationwide focus in recycling is what to do with the growing pile of throwaway electronics, said Joe Truini, who tracks recycling trends for Waste News, an Ohio-based industry publication.

A survey a few years ago found for every Florida household, there's an average of one computer and one TV waiting to be discarded, said Jack Price, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's environmental manager in hazardous waste.

Computer monitors and TVs are particularly worrisome because each contains tubes filled with 4 to 6 pounds of lead, a hazardous material that could pollute soil and water if left to crumble in a landfill. Businesses are prohibited from putting them in landfills, but residents are not restricted.

Florida awarded $2.1 million in grants over the last three years to study ways to recycle e-waste. Most of the money is going to cities and counties.

Jacksonville, for the first time, will have 14 e-waste collection days this year (they began in December), one in each City Council district. The state gave Jacksonville $50,000 to hire a company to dismantle the equipment.

Florida also is part of a national initiative of government, electronics industry and consumer representatives discussing how to share recycling responsibility.

The challenge is the cost.

"This is a kid-glove type of recycling, which makes it very labor intensive," said Jack's Recycling owner, Jack Jones, whose business is certified by the EPA to handle the lead-filled tubes.

TVs and computer monitors are bulky to transport and store, they take time and labor to dismantle, and their components have little value.

Several computer manufacturers take back used computers for a fee. But many people won't recycle if they have to pay to do it.

California came close this summer to adding $10 to the price of every computer and TV sold in that state. The extra fee would pay for recycling. Gov. Gray Davis declined to sign the bill into law, instead asking for a bill that spreads out responsibility.

South Carolina lawmakers have repeatedly rejected a similar bill that would add $5 to the price of a computer.

No one in Florida has proposed such a fee, said the DEP's Price.

But Florida does have a precedent. The state adds $1.50 to the price of each tire sold. The money is supposed to go to a fund for tire recycling, said Janice Eggleton Davis, director of the solid waste and resource management department. However, Jacksonville's portion of those funds is shrinking. Jacksonville used to get $420,000 a year from the tire fund, but this year is getting just $114,000, Davis said. …

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