California's Computer Trash Cleanup to Cost U.S. $1 Billion

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Public officials are beginning to take note of the problem. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control recently declared the lead in computer monitors to be hazardous waste, which must be disposed according to state and federal hazardous waste guidelines.

That means that it's illegal to dispose of them other than at approved recycling or solid-waste facilities, said Peggy Harris, chief of the department's regulatory programs division.

Her office also is preparing to issue emergency regulations in July that would require the monitors to be handled in a manner consistent with their threat to health and the environment.

City Government Concern

Locally, Sacramento City Councilman Ray Tretheway said he plans to propose shifting the financial burden of computer recycling from cities to the state.

Tretheway said experts have estimated a city the size of Sacramento would have to spend U.S. $5 million to U.S. $10 million over the next five years just to manage toxic waste from obsolete computers. "The financial burden is just too large for us," he said.

Statewide, recycling or safely destroying outdated computers would cost U.S. $25 million to $42 million a year, the coalition estimates. Throw in the obsolete machines now stored at homes and businesses, and the total could hit U.S. $1 billion over the next five years, the coalition said.

Some computer companies are taking initial steps toward recycling PCs. Hewlett-Packard Co. has established a recycling operation in Roseville that now accepts computers from the public. But shipping costs run between U.S. $30 and $50 to get computers to the site, which could discourage participation.

IBM has a similar program, but so far has taken in only about 1,000 PCs, compared with the 3 million units it sells each year in the United States, Murray said.

Murray said he's skeptical that such programs will make much of a dent, likening them to bottle recycling programs in which the customer would have to ship glass containers to a recycler via UPS or Federal Express.

Renee St. Denis, HP's environmental business unit manager, said HP's program is just an initial step and the company is meeting with groups to decide the next step.

(c) 2001 Sacramento Bee

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