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Computer recycling

As a state, we do a pretty lousy job of recycling old computers and computer components.

Texas ranks last in recycling computer parts among states that require manufacturers to take back their electronics, according to a report by an Austin environmental group that tries to keep computers and other electronics from landfills.

The report, by Texas Campaign for the Environment, compared recycling on a per capita basis in Texas with other states that have “computer takeback programs.” Under the Texas takeback law, computer manufacturers doing business in Texas must provide individuals and home businesses with free recycling options for used desktops, laptops and monitors.

Computers contain components with lead, mercury and other harmful materials. Environmentalists say burying computers in landfills or burning them in incinerators is unsafe.

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In 2009, computer manufacturers in Texas recovered a total of 15.2 million pounds of used electronics for recycling and reuse, or about 0.62 pounds per capita, according to the report. Minnesota, by contrast, had an estimated collection rate of 2.78 pounds of computers per capita in the first year of its takeback law. Manufacturers in Minnesota face a fine if they fail to collect a percentage of the pounds they sold, according to Schneider.

The bright spot in Texas might be Dell Inc., which is responsible for about 85 percent of the computer recycling in Texas and provides convenient spots for consumers to drop off their computers, according to the report.

An executive summary of the report is here, and the full report is here (PDF). I recall that the last time I had a computer to recycle, which was before the Take Back law was passed, I took it to the Westpark recycling center. I asked if that would have been counted in these stats. This was the answer I got from Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment:

Nope, this report is only measuring the manufacturer-based recycling results for last year. So why aren’t manufacturers responsible for recycling computers taken to Westpark and other local government drop-off locations? During the legislative session we argued for that exact provision, but to no avail. We’re hoping the City of Houston, and many other local governments, will join us in pressing state lawmakers to amend the law to fix this and many other shortcomings; if we’re successful the answer to your question will be yes in 2012. After all, cities and counties shouldn’t be paying to recycle electronics — the manufacturers should.

Seems reasonable to me. Anything that can boost recycling is worth pursuing. Hair Balls has more, and the TCE’s press release is beneath the fold.

The Texas Computer TakeBack Law, passed by state lawmakers in 2007, was designed to give Texans a free and convenient way to recycle their old computers. However, a report released today by Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund (TCE Fund) shows that most computer-makers did not recycle significant volumes in the first year of the program. In fact, among states with similar takeback programs, Texas ranked dead last in per capita collections.

“The Texas TakeBack program is a phenomenal idea poorly executed,” said Robin Schneider, TCE Fund Executive Director. “Of all the computer makers, only Dell took ‘free and convenient recycling’ to heart when they designed their recycling program.”

In 2009, computer manufacturers recovered over 15 million pounds of unwanted electronics in Texas, or just over half a pound per person. Dell alone collected nearly 13 million pounds—almost 85% of the Texas total—through their partnership with Goodwill and Staples, which allowed consumers to drop off old electronics at any Goodwill or Staples location statewide. Meanwhile, many other manufacturers offered mail-back programs, which the law sets as the “default” option in the Texas program.

“States with successful e-cycling results included real convenience standards and reasonable collection goals in their legislation,” says Zac Trahan, TCE Fund Program Director. “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.”

Minnesota collected almost 3 pounds of computer equipment per person in the first year of its takeback program. Unlike Texas, manufacturers are required to recycle an amount equal to 80% of the weight of new products sold in the state. Other states such as Oregon, Washington and Rhode Island require companies to set up electronics collection sites in every county and every town with 10,000 people or more.

Computers and monitors contain toxic materials such as lead, mercury and cadmium. Environmentalists don’t want old electronic products to end up in landfills, where they say the toxic components can leach out into groundwater, air and soil. The TCE Fund report recommends improvements to the legislation, including a statewide ban on tossing electronics in the trash. A copy of the report is available at: www.texasenvironment.org/fund

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3 Comments

  1. Joe White says:

    I take my clients’ old machines (once I’ve wiped them) to Techs & Trainers, a 501c3 that trains folks with disabilities to work on the machines, gets working computers for a reasonable price into the hands of folks who would not otherwise have them, and anything they can’t use goes through one of the state-licensed recyclers. A true Win-Win-Win!

  2. Joes, reuse is great and thanks for pointing folks to a good reuse opportunity. At some point, a computer will need recycling, that why we need a stronger computer takeback law. Unfortunately, the State of Texas doesn’t have decent standards for licensing electronics recyclers either. The only standard available now that prohibits dumping electronic waste on developing countries or in landfills is the e-Steward standard. Get more details at: http://www.e-steward.org

  3. mary t. says:

    If you want to recycle computers or anything at all, the Westpark Recycling center lets you drive through and they’ll even take it out of your vehicle for you. On the other hand, you can also check out the room on the left as you drive through for things you may want to take with you. But be quick–the books I wanted to grab out of the room were in the dumpster from the time I arrived til I spoke with the manager about some computer keyboards I wanted to recycle. The staff I’ve dealt with are very nice and understanding.