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RECYCLING OLD COMPUTERS?

Here are $1.2 Billion Reasons You Should

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Source: bxjonline

RECYCLING OLD COMPUTERS?
Here are $1.2 Billion Reasons You Should

Rachel Duran

Many companies find antiquated and stocked computer and electronic equipment on their shelves when they are in the process of moving. The easiest thing for a company to do would be to trash the equipment, right? Absolutely not.

Trashing computers and electronic equipment (telephones, cell phones, calculators, telephone systems, scanners, printers, and even typewriters) adds tons of toxic compounds to the nation's landfills, compromising air and land quality. In addition, computers or other electronic equipment dumped in a landfill can be easily traced back to the company that dumped them. That company will face huge environmental fines, among other issues.

"We did business with a company in Texas that got hit with a $1.2 billion clean up," said Brian Brundage, CEO of Intercon Solutions, electronic recycling division, Chicago. "All a federal or government agency needs is a serial number off of a computer to see who owned it."

There are other ways companies are fined for improper electronic equipment disposal. "A company will have to pay for the proper disposal of that equipment, be it through recycling or hazardous waste disposal," said Neil Peters-Michaud, president of Cascade Asset Management, LLC, Madison, Wis. "The company will also have to pay the cost to remove it from the landfill or pay remediation, which covers the cost of potential groundwater contamination. That is very expensive."

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How do companies properly dispose of electronic equipment? The answer is recycling the equipment with a reputable electronics equipment recycler. These companies will issue reports and certificates that outline what happened to each piece of equipment and its components. This ensures that your company has proof of where the equipment and its components went, should you ever need to demonstrate this information.

"Cascade gives me a complete breakdown of the equipment so that I know it was properly disposed of," said Dave Burreson, of Lands' End, Inc.'s environmental health and safety department, Dodgeville, Wis. "We recycle our equipment because we know it is the right thing to do. We can't just landfill this equipment. This is the way things are headed in the future." Lands' End has recycled about 8,000-to-10,000 pounds of electronic equipment so far in 2000.

SPELLING OUT THE HAZARDS

What makes computers and other electronic equipment hazardous? "There are numerous hazardous materials in computer equipment, in particular with monitors and terminals," Peters-Michaud said. "The glass tubes in monitors and televisions, called Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs), contain between two-to-five pounds of lead. Under current Environmental Protection Agency regulations, particularly the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, it is against the law to dispose of hazardous materials into solid waste landfills."

CRTs are increasingly being legislated. Last spring, Massachusetts became the only state to officially prohibit the disposal of CRTs at all of the state's combustion facilities and landfills. As Peters-Michaud mentioned, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's "Subtitle C-Hazardous Waste Program," provides regulations against dumping computer and electronic equipment in landfills because of the hazardous materials they include, which will harm human health and the environment.

"Computers also contain cathium and lithium, usually in the batteries of computers," Peters-Michaud said. "There are also trace elements of mercury. Laptops have fluorescent lamps that create the backlight to see the image. The lamps contain mercury."

Brundage noted, "Every piece of electronic equipment has a printed circuit board in it, whether it is a cell phone, a telephone or a calculator. Eighty percent of these printed circuit boards are made of lead." Computer dumping is going to become tightly regulated as other states follow Massachusetts' lead. One of the reasons for the tightened regulations is that the National Safety Council predicts that more than 315 million computers will become obsolete by the year 2004, which would add an estimated 8.5 million tons of waste to the nation's landfills.

THE PROCESS

Here is a quick rundown of the recycling process for electronic equipment. A recycler picks up the materials, for free, or for a price per piece of machinery. The company then sorts the machinery at its facility and begins isolating the hazardous materials and preparing the machines for recycling.

At Cascade Asset Management, machinery is broken down and batteries and CRTs are pulled out. CRT glass is then cut and the leaded glass is separated from the clean glass. The clean glass is sent to a processor and crushed into a cullet, which is made back into a new CRT. "We actually recycle the tubes back into new picture tubes," Peters-Michaud said. "The lead is recycled by other companies for other lead uses, or it is incinerated or buried."

Cascade Asset Management also has a commodities market for the equipment it recycles. The company pulled about 3,500 pounds of circuit boards from a recent batch of equipment. From that batch, the company captured 5 ounces of gold, 4 ounces of platinum, and 300 pounds of copper. Other commodities include plastic and aluminum, which can be recycled into new durable goods.

"About 50 percent of the equipment we get in is in perfectly good shape," Peters-Michaud said. "We test the equipment, remove data from the hard drive and erase all data. We clean up the equipment for resale. Sometimes we also pull components out of the equipment, including memory; and we pull integrated circuits right off the boards and sell them." The company splits any revenue generated from the recycling or the resale of the equipment with the companies that turned it in to be recycled.

About 30 of the company's commodities go to a secondary smelter, whose furnace burns off the contaminants on plastic parts. The plastic is sent to an end user that makes a regrind of the plastic, which is then molded into new plastic products.

Cascade Asset Management then issues detailed reports of what happened to the electronic equipment and its components. Intercon Solution's process includes melting the CRTs, instead of breaking them. The company pays to recycle the plastics, all the glass and circuit board material. Customers are issued certificates of recycling that releases them from environmental liability.

Brundage said the company averages six tractor-trailer loads a week, which are delivered to the company's Chicago 100,000-square-foot warehouse. The deliveries come from the company's warehouses located across the country. "A lot of companies have good and bad recyclables," Brundage said. "A monitor cost us 'x' dollars to recycle. A computer CPU has a value. What happens, in a lot of cases, is that we are able to defer the costs of recycling and then pay the customer something for the material. This doesn't happen all the time, but it does a lot of the time."

"We put the equipment in boxes and Intercon Solutions picks them up," said Laura Davis, technology support team for Woolpert, LLP, Dayton, Ohio, a civil engineering firm with 24 offices across the country.

"We let them deal with the logistics from our offices to their recycling centers. It doesn't cost us anything. Our account is monitored, and if the equipment the company picks up from us makes more money than its operating costs, it cuts us a check." Brundage said that when customers realize they can get something back, the next load they send is twice as good as the first. "To us, that is important because we see that we are getting everything, and that the equipment isn't headed to the landfill.".

For more information about the computer recycling services of these companies visit www.cascade-assets. com and www.interconrecycling.com.

ELECTRONICS RECYCLING INDUSTRY

Summary Data from EPR2 Baseline Report, March 23, 1999

  • The number of personal computers being recycled has been increasing significantly and is expected to reach approximately 60 million units a year within the next five years.
  • Total volume of electronics products recycling (computers, telecommunications and consumer electronics, e.g. TVs) in 1998 was approximately 275 million pounds (9.7 million units). There were approximately 33 million pounds of electronic parts, subassemblies and materials recycled.

MAJOR TYPES OF ELECTRONICS BEING RECYCLED (1998 DATA)

Types of Electronics Recycled Millions of Pounds Millions of Units

Computer peripherals 73 2.9
Personal Computers 59 2.4
Mainframe Computers 56 0.06
CRTs 46 1.3
Telecommunications Equipment 20 2
Electronics Parts 25
Printed Circuit Boards 2

Source: EPR2 Baseline Report, issued by the Environmental Health and Safety Center of the National Safety Council. Based on 120 responses of 400 surveys issued.

COMPUTER RECYCLING FAST FACTS

  • Nearly 350 million desktop computers have been manufactured in American since 1982. More than 50 percent of these computers sit in storage today and some estimates reach as high as 75 percent. National Safety Council Report
  • Seventy percent of all major appliances manufactured each year are recycled. Only 6 percent of the annual production of desktop computers are recycled. National Safety Council Report
  • The total volume of recycled desktop computers reduced in 1998 by nearly 2 percent, while total new production increased by 19 percent. National Safety Council Report
  • A monitor's Cathode Ray Tube has between four-and-eight pounds of lead in it.
  • Each year, for the last 10 years, the desktop computer industry production has averaged an increase in units shipped of 20 percent per year from the previous year.
  • With 25 million new computer systems manufactured in this country each year, new computer manufacturing requires the consumption of approximately 1 million barrels of crude oil and 7.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas every year.

Source: Facts posted at the Back Thru the Future Micro Computers, Inc.'s Web site, www.thegreenpc.com. The company is a member of the EPA's WasteWise program.

MATERIALS FOUND IN ONE TON OF RANDOM ELECTRONIC BOARDS

Material LBS/Ton
Plastics 600
Copper 286
Iron 90
Bromine 56
Lead 54
Tin 44
Nickel 40
Antimony 22
Zinc 9
Silver 1
Gold 1
Cadminum 0.79
Tantalum 0.38
Molybedenum 0.31
Palladium 0.25
Beryllium 0.18
Cobalt 0.17
Cerium 0.1
Platinum 0.07
Lanthanum 0.06
Mercury 0.02

Source: Technical University of Denmark

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Michael Meuser bootstrapped his way into the salvage and recycling business in the early 1980s. He began with building deconstruction and scrap metals and then moved into electronics, computer and telecommunications scrap where he learned to recover gold and other precious metal.
Michael tells his story, provides resources and offers his advice at his website, RecyclingSecrets.com, and his blog, Recycling Secrets Blog. Recently Mike completed the eBook How to Make Money in the Home Based Salvage and Recycling Business. It is a chronicle of his experiences, successes and failures in the business. Also, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

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