Electronics could overwhelm landfills
June 23, 2007
If we live in a throw-away society, little underscores the point more than short-lived electronics such as TVs and computers, most of which end up under seagull encircled landfills despite still performing to their original specifications.
"The lifespan of electronics used to be 8-10 years. Now the lifespan is estimated at 12 to 24 months," said John Miller, vice president of GRX Electronic Recyclers based in Denver, with a plant in Utah.
Not only are computers, TVs and VCRs surging into limited landfill space, but harmful materials found in the electronics are leaching into soil and making their way into the water table.
"Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste in landfills," Miller said. "Electronics are the No. 1 reason heavy metals are in our landfills today. The heavy metals eventually leech into the water."
To compound the problem, as high definition TVs become more readily available, more programs are broadcast in HD, and as HD prices plummet, households are dumping functional TVs in place of the new technology.
"We’re very prepared to handle the material," Miller said.
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In addition, many conventional televisions will likely be dumped early in 2009, when the federal government will require television stations to broadcast digital signals instead of current analog signals, which will require the modification of conventional TV’s to receive local broadcast signal, or subscriptions to satellite or cable services.
Insa Riepen, the executive director of Recycle Utah, said the facility charges $5 to accept computer monitors and TVs up to 21." A $10 fee is assessed for larger screen TVs. There is no charge for the computer itself.
Recycling electronics into safe, reusable materials, is a money loosing proposition, but very doable. Miller said almost all materials in electronics can be recycled, which yields plastics, metals, (including about 10 pounds of lead in a TV picture tube) copper, aluminum, as well as other metals, and glass. The conventional TV picture tube accounts for the major cost of recycling.
With increasing electronic waste, some states are banning electronics from landfills. Utah is not one of those states. Companies that recycle electronics are forming, but with little government oversight of the fledgling industry, the cure is sometimes worse than the disease.
Some recyclers ship containers of electronics overseas, representing them as functional when, in fact, several key components have been removed for salvage, known as ‘cherry picking,’ Miller said. The then nearly worthless electronics end up as mountains of electronic waste, sometimes burned. "The biggest problem is occurring in China and Africa," he said. Together they get 500 containers per month, each container holding 35-40 thousand pounds of electronics. It’s a sad situation when people dump junk on a country," Miller said. "It’s a big racket."
Worse, computer hard drives can be accessed for former owner’s, leading to identity theft.
Miller said there is an estimated 500 million to one billion pounds of electronics sitting in people’s garages and attics waiting to be recycled, which he refers to as "e-waste purgatory.
Eric Anderson, the regional manager for GRX, who handles the company’s electronic recycling in Utah, said that the cost to properly recycle a conventional TV is $15-25. He said California has the best working model for the paying of recycling fees. When a consumer buys an electronic device, an additional fee is charged, with the money going into electronic recycling.
He believes the best solution in Utah is to increase the shipping fees of electronics, which would minimally impact consumers. He would also like to see a state law banning electronics from landfills. Drop off centers will become more common over time. Miller said some stores are beginning to accept old electronics when new versions are purchased.
Miller said the best way to find a reputable electronics recycler is to ask if you can tour their recycling facility. He would like to see more supervision of electronic recyclers by the governing Environmental Protection Agency.
For more information, contact Recycle Utah at 649-9698, or visit http://www.recycleutah.org
Or visit http://www.grxrecycles.com or call Eric Anderson at (801) 386-2533
Recycle Utah accepts electronic waste including:
Computer CPUs and plug-in components such as mouse, keyboard, chords and cables, modems, printers and scanners, computer monitors and TVs ($5 fee up to 21" screen, laptops, flat-panel computer screens, and $10 for larger-than 21" screens), $5 charge for microwaves.