~e; recycling EM junk

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Sun, 20 Jan 2002 18:28:18 -0600

  [always strikes  me as odd when for millennia peoples would make use of
  every scrap, so as not to waste valuable resources. and then, in relation
  to computing, this idea is irrelevant at best. in Minnesota, there is roughly
  40% of recycling of trash done, one of the highest percentages in the US.
  but if in terms of electronics, it probably is much closer to zero in terms
  of dealing with toxic materials, embedded in the current processes/ors.]

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink
By Manny Frishberg
2:00 a.m. Jan. 17, 2002 PST


SEATTLE, Washington -- Twenty years after it entered the mainstream of
American society, recycling is still a partly filled glass. Whether 
it appears half-full or half-empty depends on if you are collecting 
the glass or remanufacturing it.

Representatives from local and state governments, nonprofit recyclers
and the waste management industry -- an estimated 1,200 people -- 
attended the 20th annual congress of the National Recycling 
Coalition. Topics have ranged from ways to cut garbage down to zero 
to dealing with the hazardous leftovers from the constant growth of 
computer power, including mercury-tainted mother boards and leaded 
glass from monitors.

In the conference rooms, government recycling officials and their
nonprofit counterparts have been discussing strategies for convincing 
consumers to consume less. But in the exhibit hall, companies are 
touting everything from reprocessed-denim rulers to patio furniture 
and decks made from plastic wrap and discarded soda bottles.

Coping with the steady stream of outmoded computer equipment has
become a prime topic for discussion at this year's event, with no 
fewer than five workshop sessions dealing with the issue to one 
degree or another. Many of the old computers end up in commercial 
landfills, where they can contaminate the soil and leach poisons into 
the groundwater.

Scott Cahail, assistant director of Kansas City, Missouri's
Environmental Management Department, said the issue of dealing with 
dead computers is a question of who should take responsibility for 
disposing of them.

He said session participants are looking at the European approach,
which mandates that the producers make provisions for disposing of 
the products and their packaging either by taking back the items at 
the end of their productive lives, or funding their disposal 
directly. One advantage to this approach is to encourage companies to 
deal with the problems up front by giving them a financial incentive 
to reduce the amounts and types of waste they will ultimately have to 
cope with.

"People are going to have to pay" the disposal costs on one side or he
other, he said. "The fee for monitors is basically the cost for 
demanufacturing, mostly for the leaded glass." The estimated charges, 
he said, run from about $12 to $20 per monitor.

The federal government, a major source of antiquated computer
equipment itself, has been working with the private sector to find 
ways to reuse and recycle old computers and electronics components. 
In Oak Ridge, Tennessee, over the past year, The Oak Ridge National 
Recycling Center has recycled more than 1,300 metric tons of obsolete 
electronics, boasting a more than 96 percent rate of reuse or 
recycling of the materials they receive.

Old hard drives and some circuit boards are resold for use in new
equipment. Unusable circuit boards and small plastic parts, usually 
made of high-density polyethylene, are ground up into chips and 
melted for reuse. Precious metals are separated from the mix by a 
process known as "fire assay." And screws, clips and fasteners are 
sorted with magnets into ferrous and non-ferrous piles for recycling. 
Most of the leaded glass from the monitors can also be remelted and 
reformed to make new picture tubes.

Unicor, the commercial name for the Federal Prison Industries, has
gone into the business of remanufacturing toner cartridges for more 
than 100 models of printers, fax machines and copiers, which they 
sell for up to half the cost of new ones.

Since they are remanufactured, rather than just refilled, they can
claim quality as good or better than the originals. And, thanks to 
their connection to the Justice Department, it is against federal law 
for the manufacturer to void a warranty for using "properly 
remanufactured" cartridges like the ones they are selling.

Computers are not the only thing being "demanufactured" to reuse the
component parts. Even old buildings are being carefully dismantled so 
the materials can be used for new construction projects.

Added to that are a whole range of organic and recyclable building
materials, including marble-like countertops made from recycled 
newsprint and soybean flour, and interior walls made from compressed 
wheatstraw or recycled gypsum-board.

In all, the NRC reports, recycling has become a major industry in the
United States, accounting for approximately the same number of jobs 
as the auto industry and just slightly fewer than computer makers and 
food manufacturing.

The reuse industry ranges from local thrift stores and antique shops
to computer demanufacturers, pallet rebuilders and materials exchanges.

Nationwide there are more than 56,000 public- and private-sector
facilities with an annual payroll of $37 billion and taking in $236 
billion in gross annual sales. The largest sectors are paper, with 
close to 140,000 employees and $49 billion in annual receipts; steel 
mills, with over 118,000 workers and $46 billion in estimated annual 
receipts; and recycled plastics converters, employing nearly 178,000 
people and bringing in $28 billion in annual receipts.

At the plenary session on Tuesday morning, corporate executives talked
about a business ethos they described as a "triple bottom-line" -- 
placing equal emphasis on economics, equity and the environment.

Fetzer Winery chief Patrick Healy said his company had taken those
principles beyond their own walls, convincing their box supplier to 
make a carton that used less cardboard while maintaining the same 
strength and encouraging the growers they buy from to grow organic 

"It's encouraging to see businesses that are interested in being
environmentally responsible, rather than just profit-minded," said 
Emily Langerak, an environmental educator from Clackamas, Oregon. One 
thing she said she would take away from the conference was a "fourth 
R" for "Rethinking" -- to go with the recycling community's "Reduce, 
Reuse and Recycle" motto.

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