- Intercon makes the list for top facebook page
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- Computer User - THE RESPONSIBLE LEADER IN e-WASTE RECYCLING
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Today - Intercon Solutions adds plant
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e-waste recycler moves to new facility, expands capacity
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Mindset" for Retired Assets
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not just high-tech landfill fodder
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Recycled PCs Harming the Earth?
Electronics Recycling Newsletter
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- An intimate look at being "green"
- Brian Brundage, CEO
Glencoe McGraw Hill. Norton E-zine
Are Recycled PCs Harming the Earth?
For years, environmentalists and responsible PC makers have encouraged computer users to recycle their old computers instead of simply throwing them out. Millions of environmentally conscientious consumers and businesses have heeded the call. Instead of tossing their old PCs and other hardware into a dumpster, these users have donated them to charitable causes or given them to recycling centers.
In the United States today, there are thousands of individual computer recycling centers in operation. Many of them keep the old computers in house, stripping away parts that can be used, then safely recycling the unusable parts.
More often, however, recyclers ship the old hardware overseas, and millions of tons end up in China, India, and developing nations. There, often in impoverished villages with little or no other industry, workers dismantle old PCs by hand, exposing themselves to harmful chemicals and releasing thousands of pounds of pollutants into the air, water, and ground.
Now, environmentalists have issued a new plea: that responsible governments and industries work together to stop this practice. If it continues unabated, experts argue, we can expect thousands of recycling workers to become ill, and for pollution levels to rise to unprecedented levels in areas where improper recycling methods are used.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM
Despite their increasing user-friendliness, computers are anything but friendly to the environment. Today's computers contain any number of agents that can be harmful to the environment, if not processed correctly. The average cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor, for example, contains several pounds of lead, which is a known poison. Further, CRTs can explode if not handled properly, scattering shards of glass and other materials.
Laptop computers offer their own threats to the environment. The vast majority of portable systems use batteries that contain poisonous heavy metals, such as cadmium. If not disposed of properly, these batteries can become damaged and leak their contents into the environment.
A computer's wires and circuit boards are still another issue. When burned, these components can create toxic fumes. When simply tossed into a landfill, they will last virtually forever.
These problems are compounded by the fact that millions of obsolete PCs are discarded every year. Only a small fraction of these systems are properly recycled in the United States, because the process is expensive and yields a relatively small amount of reusable components or materials. Recyclers have found it cheaper and easier simply to ship the old PCs to other countries, which take charge of "processing" the hardware and reclaiming usable materials.
In recent months, environmentalists from developed nations have visited these recycling centers and been alarmed by the conditions they have found. Overseas recyclers, however, generally do not follow standard practices for recycling, placing workers, communities, and the environment at risk. In some cases, workers strip old computers with their bare hands and minimal tools; around them, fires burn discarded plastic and silicon and fill the air with a constant haze of toxic fumes and ash. Little care is taken to protect local water supplies or food sources from toxins.
In the past few months, several European countries and Japan passed laws declaring that their electronic waste (such as old computer hardware) cannot be exported. This forces recyclers to handle cast-off computers properly instead of dumping them somewhere else.
At a global level, the United Nation's Environment Program has overseen the Basel Convention for several years. This international group studies the problems of global environmental hazards and develops treaties; member nations pledge to follow strict guidelines for dealing with various kinds of waste. The Basel Convention is working on strengthening its coverage of "e-waste," or pollution stemming from technology components.
In the United States, a task force of lawmakers and computer-industry experts is working on legislation governing the disposal of high-tech waste. There is no timetable for passing that legislation, however.
Traditionally, American computer makers have opposed such legislation, but have since joined in the push for reform. Despite their willingness to help, however, the issue of recycling forces manufacturers to face a new problem. That is, who will pay for recycling? One idea is for computer makers to build a recycling fee into the price of new computers (estimated at about $20 or $25). Then, at the end of a computer's life, the user could return it to the manufacturer or to an approved PC recycler, with the recycling fee already paid up-front.
PC makers worry about a consumer backlash against such a fee, and environmentalists worry that despite paying such a fee, many consumers will simply toss their old PCs into the trash without attempting to recycle them. No matter what solution develops, however, it's a sure bet that consumers will have to bear at least a portion of the cost.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you have a computer or other hardware that is obsolete, you can take steps to make sure it is properly recycled. Consider the following:
Don't throw PC components in the trash. Whether it's a CD, floppy disks, manuals, hardware, or anything else, don't just toss it out in the garbage. You have better options, which can benefit everyone.
Look for a recycler in your area. If you live near a large city, there may be a reputable PC recycler nearby that can responsibly recycle your hardware. Check the phone book under "Recycling." If you don't find anything, check with a local computer seller. If that doesn't help, check with a local trash hauler or your city's waste disposal agency. They may know recyclers who can help.
Search the Web for options. There are plenty of online resources that can provide you with information about computer recycling. See the list of links at the end of this article.
Can't recycle? Then donate it. Unless your PC is really old or is so broken that it can't be fixed, you may be able to donate it to someone in your community. Schools, community centers, mentoring programs, libraries, churches, and other organizations are constantly looking for computer hardware. They may put the system to use in-house or give it to a needy family.
Sell it. If your system is reasonably new and in good working order, you may be able to sell it to a local used computer shop. Don't expect much in return, however. Brand-new computers are cheap, so used computers sell at nearly give-away prices. Still, if the system is put to good use and you can make a few dollars in the deal, that's great.
LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION
Visit the following Web sites for more information on e-waste and measures being taken to solve the problems of pollution stemming from discarded computer hardware:
Solutions: Computer Recycling.
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