Toxic Trade News / 20 April 2008
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Recycle That Computer Hidden in Your Closet
by Glenn Fleishman, PCWorld
20 April 2008 – You have a secret. Come on. You can tell me, your columnist friend. You have an obsolete computer hiding in your closet, under your desk, in the basement...right? I know you do. We all do. (I have seven ancient but working computers right now that are in some stage of needing to achieve the next step in their progress towards enlightenment.)

With Earth Day coming up on April 22, there's no better way to celebrate than to admit your shame, and find out the best and least toxic course of action to shed extra hardware that might benefit others--and remain out of the local dump. With precious metal prices at all time highs, even the most disastrously broken gear you own may be valuable on the recycling market.

"E-cycling" isn't touchy-feely, do-gooder, namby-pambyism without an effect: Research has increasingly shown that trash dumps are constantly leaching material and runoff, and that the heavy metals, chromium, brominated compounds, and other substances wind up in the outflow. Many U.S. dumps now ban monitor (which can be smelted to reduce their heavy lead content), and many are considering further bans on all electronics.

If you have gear that still works, you should look in your local community for groups that are willing to renovate equipment and pass it on to those who can't afford to purchase even used equipment. In my hometown of Seattle, for instance, InterConnection takes all computer equipment, and provides it to non-profits and low-income local residents. They'll also take and sort (at a small cost) lots of other electronics. I was able to hand off about 100 pounds of computers, peripherals, and other devices a few months ago, most of which was in some state of working condition.

Unfortunately for your personal karma, the Basel Action Network determined a few years ago that many of the downstream companies that handle electronics and computer recycling--not the firm where you drop stuff off, but the companies that accept waste from those companies or even one more step removed--where simply exporting the parts they couldn't use or melt down effectively. These pieces would be put in containers in an unregulated fashion to China and to developing nations, where parts were burned and disassembled in a fashion disastrous to the local environment. (China has banned most such imports, but there's simply too much to monitor.)

Basel Action Network is devoted to reducing the amount of hazardous waste produced in making computers and electronics, improving the re-use of materials of all kinds, and halting the global hot potato game of moving toxics from developed to developing nations. (The group's name comes from the city in Switzerland in which an international agreement was signed; they're based in Seattle.)

They've developed an extensive list divided by region of e-Stewards who have signed on to a pledge about the lifecycle of products as they pass through recycling stages. InterConnection, noted above, is one of those firms.

Many computer and peripheral makers have stepped up and are in the process of stepping up to reduce toxic crud that goes into their products, and to take back items they made as well as those made by other companies at the end of their life.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Basel Action Network is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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