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Picture dim for recycling TVs, computers, electronics

| Friday, Dec. 21, 2007

Electronic trash such as old computers, monitors, cell phones and discarded TVs is a growing problem, and environmental groups say they need a better way to dispose of that equipment than putting it out for the weekly trash pickup.

Electronic trash is the fastest-growing portion of the waste stream, said Barbara Kyle, a San Francisco-based national coordinator for the Electronic Takeback Coalition, a national recycling advocacy group with branches across the country.

Used or unwanted electronics totaled between 1.9 million and 2.2 million tons in 2005, according to the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figures. Of that, only about 350,000 tons were recycled, with the rest going to landfills.

That is a danger because monitors and older TV picture tubes contain an average of 4 pounds of lead and require special handling. In addition, electronics can contain metals such as chromium, cadmium, mercury, nickel and zinc, the EPA says.

Millions of older technology TVs will start to enter the waste stream after a federally mandated switch from analog to digital broadcasting takes effect in February 2009. "With the advent of the FCC's mandate of digital TV, there's definitely going to be an issue," said Joe Harford, vice president of sales and marketing for Reclamere, a recycling company in Tyrone, Blair County.

Today, most consumers who want to get rid of televisions and other electronic gadgets simply put them out at curbside with the rest of the trash, hoping they're accepted by local haulers for eventual deposit in landfills, Harford said.

Kate Davin Flynn of Shadyside says she's a conscientious recycler and is willing to pay disposal fees to properly dispose of used TVs and other electronic waste.

"I definitely would. My eyes were opened in the last 18 months, and I can't go back," said Flynn, whose basement is still home to a video cassette recorder and an old DVD player. "I hate to just throw them away, so I keep them in the basement," she said. She also has two old personal computers.

Dr. Hank Croft of the Loyalhanna Veterinary Clinic in Stahlstown, Westmoreland County, says he recycles a lot of waste and is willing to pay to get rid of old electronic items.

"Putting them in the garbage is the easy way out. I'm a firm believer in recycling, and I try to do what I can," said Croft, who is past president of the Loyalhanna Watershed Association, which supervises recycling efforts in that area.

There are not many ways environmentally conscious consumers can recycle electronics. Reclamere's Harford agrees "it's difficult to be responsible," when disposal costs for old televisions range from $22 to $45.

Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh recognizes electronic waste as a big problem, but the nonprofit is not geared to accept broken or unusable televisions.

"We're positioned to deal with computers, but we're not positioned to recycle unworking televisions," said David Tobiczyk, spokesman for Goodwill of Pittsburgh.

Last year Goodwill started a partnership with Dell Inc. to collect unwanted computer equipment -- a program that has met with success. Tobiczyk said in the past year, the program has brought in over 50,000 used or obsolete computer parts.

Harford says Reclamere sometimes works with the Pennsylvania Resources Council, a nonprofit environmental group with offices in Pittsburgh and near Philadelphia.

Dave Mazza, PRC's western regional director on the South Side, said the group teams with Reclamere on several recycling events annually -- mostly involving recycling of old electronics equipment.

"We have done events that included TVs, but it's costly. There's not a lot to recycle on a television," Mazza said. Glass is the biggest byproduct of older sets.

Sony Corp.'s electronics division recently announced a partnership with Waste Management Recycle America LLC to create a national recycling program for consumer electronics.

Sony's "Take Back" campaign allows consumers to recycle all Sony-branded products for no fee at 75 drop-off centers operated by Waste Management nationwide.

The only center in Pennsylvania is in Lancaster. As the program expands, Sony and Waste Management said they hoped to establish 150 drop-off centers within one year.

Sony's Take Back program allows consumers to recycle other manufacturers' consumer electronic products at market prices and may include a recycling fee for some types of materials.

Environmental Coordination Services & Recycling of Cochrantown in Crawford County handles electronic equipment, including computers, cell phones and televisions. The company charges anywhere from $20 to $45 to recycle televisions and 18 cents per pound for electronics.

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