Our landfill is running out of room. Chances are, the amount of electronics being dumped there is more than last year. With digital TV coming soon, many households have replaced old analog TVs with cool, new flat screens and have replaced obsolete computers with the latest model. Now the question: What are you going to do with all those old TVs, computers, cell phones and other out-of-date or broken electronics you have around the house?
Most people are now aware that electronic equipment — especially old televisions and computer monitors — contain a lot of toxic materials like lead, cadmium, barium, mercury, cancer-causing brominated flame retardants and polyvinylchlorides that could leach into our groundwater. Monitors and TVs can contain up to eight pounds of lead that can easily be recycled.
Homer’s annual Electronics Recycling Event is scheduled for April 25 at the Spenard Builders Supply parking lot. I have been collecting all my dead equipment for a year in a closet, just waiting for this event. Once again, Total Reclaim, Spenard Builders and Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge will team up with numerous other local sponsors to collect the community’s electronics waste. This year, Best Buy has provided a $1,500 grant to help fund the event.
Each year, the amount of electronic waste we generate nationwide expands tremendously.
Consider the following information from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition:
• There are 500 million obsolete computers in the U.S. alone.
• 130 million cell phones are disposed of annually.
• 20 – 24 million TVs and computers are stored annually in homes and offices.
• Only 10% of unwanted and obsolete computers are recycled.
We simply cannot continue to just throw these valuable resources into our landfills. Other states have begun to address this problem, and one of the first steps is making it illegal to dump electronics into our landfills; especially televisions and computer monitors. Just the space these items take up makes it unwise to bury them. The valuable metals like gold, copper and platinum would be better recovered than buried. Making it illegal to just dump electronics would also provide an excellent incentive to recycle.
Perhaps the best way to make recycling happen is to include the cost of recovery into the purchase price of electronics. One idea, called the Producer Take-Back or Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), would make manufacturers responsible for their products from “cradle-to-grave.” The advantage of a system like this is that manufacturers would have a big incentive to make their products as toxic-free as possible. Congress is presently considering a bill, ”Electronic Waste Research and Development Act,” that would authorize research on ways to reduce electronic waste.
Several states have electronics recycling laws. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has a comprehensive Web site with information about what other states are doing to address this problem at www.etoxics.org
It is time for the Kenai Peninsula Borough to examine this issue and figure out how to incorporate electronic recycling into a Boroughwide program. Year-round opportunities for people to drop off unwanted electronics at a recycling facility at local landfills is a great first step. Meanwhile, mark your calendar to recycle your unwanted electronics on April 25 at the annual Electronics Recycling Event.
Nina Faust is a long-time Homer resident and staunch advocate on environmental issues.
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