Electronic Design

Groups Aim To Make Molehill Out Of Mountain Of Electronic Trash

In 1998, approximately 20.6 million PCs in the U.S. became obsolete. Only 2.3 million of these, or 11%, were recycled. The rest found themselves in landfills, a dangerous proposition for a number of reasons. Landfills already have precious little room for additional waste. And, these computers contain toxic substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium.

That's why the International Association of Electronics Recyclers is teaming up with the National Safety Council's Environmental Health Center. They will combine the EHC's International Conference on Electronics Products Recovery/Recycling (EPR2) with the IAER's Electronics Recycling SUMMIT in a comprehensive conference this April in Arlington, Va.

"Building on the strengths of these two programs will help ensure an opportunity for the entire community of public and private sector interests to learn from each other and to work with each other more effectively," said Diana Bendz, chair of the events. The program will include a number of seminars and speakers that will review the electronics recycling industry's past while discussing solutions for its future.

The organizations have effectively documented the amounts of electronics waste in the U.S. The IAER says that approximately 275 million pounds of electronics, or 9.7 million units, were recycled in 1998. Additionally, about 33 million pounds of electronics parts, subassemblies, and materials were recycled. The number of recycled PCs is rising significantly. IAER expects it to reach 60 million units a year within five years.

While this sounds like some early success, the industry has a long way to go. According to the EHC, 100 million more PCs and monitors will become obsolete each year by 2005. That leaves a lot for the landfills. While 400 companies currently offer electronics recycling operations in the U.S., other solutions are available to ease the crunch.

Research company Dataquest says that less than 5% of all PCs are donated to schools, charities, and nonprofit organizations. This number should increase as Congress introduces tax breaks for PC donations to schools. In fact, with the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, companies that donate PCs to schools can qualify for an enhanced charitable deduction benefit. This law applies to computers that are less than two years old.

Organizations such as Goodwill Industries accept older equipment and refurbish it for resale or for donation to schools and nonprofit groups. The Easter Seal Society of Arizona has a program that places computer systems with children and adults with disabilities. Dozens of other agencies have similar programs, too.

For more information about the conference, or to find a list of groups that accept donations of used equipment, go to www.nsc.org/ehc or www.iaer.org.

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