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

Sacramento Bee
June 21, 2001

California faces a mounting bill for handling toxic waste from obsolete computer monitors that could total U.S. $1 billion by 2006, according to a study released by a coalition of environmental groups.

The report, "Poison PCs and Toxic TVs," said lead and other dangerous metals in computer monitors and television screens must be dealt with as hazardous waste, an expensive proposition whose costs could fall on local governments and taxpayers.

Computer makers must take responsibility for the problem by phasing out toxic materials that are used in the manufacturing process and by encouraging and financing recycling efforts, said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a co-sponsor of the study.

The coalition, which also includes the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, The Materials of the Future Foundation and Green Capitol, said much of the recycling could be financed by a charge levied on computers when they are first purchased.

Such recycling fees already are imposed in California on the purchase of tires, motor oil and bottles, Murray said.

Lack of Agreement

John Hunter, a consultant to the American Electronics Association, which represents major computer makers, said the PC industry is eager to solve the problem but is wary of such advance payment plans.

"We want to be sure that whatever we come up with doesn't limit the options people have before them," he said.

He said the AEA, state and federal regulators, and environmental groups had all been discussing legislation to promote safe computer disposal but had not yet reached agreement.

According to the coalition, the scope of the disposal problem stems from the rapid obsolescence of computers, which now have a life span of less than three years, meaning 6,000 computers become obsolete in California every day.

Those that are not stored in garages or attics are sometimes dumped in the trash. Since each computer monitor contains up to 8 pounds of lead, monitors can pose a serious health hazard if the lead leaches into the soil.

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