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It’s easy to keep electronics out of the landfill

It’s easy to keep electronics out of the landfill

By Sarah Grimm

For The Register-Guard

Appeared in print: Sunday, Dec 6, 2009
Living: Lifestyles: Story

As you unpack your brand-new TV or computer this holiday season, keep in mind that the old one cannot be put in the trash. A state law goes into effect Jan. 1 that specifically bans televisions, laptops, computer CPUs and monitors from entering landfills or incinerators in Oregon.

But don’t worry. That same state law specifically includes a system of free recycling options for this material — and there are plenty of options in Lane County.

Free recycling of televisions, laptops, computer CPUs and monitors has been available at five Lane County Waste Management transfer stations, two NextStep Recycling locations, Garten Services and all Goodwill Industry stores in Lane County since the beginning of 2009. Lane County’s program limits the number to seven per visit without an appointment, and charges bigger businesses for the larger quantities they drop off. Others in the area may not have such limitations.

The Oregon E-cycles Web site (www.oregonecycles.org) can give you all the details, and it even provides an online mapping system to identify the closest recycling location for your needs. 1-888-5ECYCLE is available for those who still prefer the phone.

As a result of the 2007 passage of House Bill 2626, Oregon became the third state in the nation to place requirements or restrictions on the disposal of electronics. The unique feature of the Oregon law is that it uses a producer responsibility framework.

The Oregon E-Cycles Law is directed at manufacturers that sell computers, monitors and TVs and requires them to provide free collection and recycling of their products. Some choose to participate in the DEQ-administered state contractor program, and others choose to create their own free recycling program — after DEQ approval certifying that it complies with environmental management practices that protect human health and the environment.

Oregon E-Cycles also requires retailers to provide printed information about Oregon E-Cycles at the point-of-sale to all customers buying new computers, monitors or TVs.

Lastly, the Oregon E-Cycles Law specifies environmental, operational and accessibility requirements of the recycling programs to ensure that a) all Oregonians are given free and convenient options for recycling instead of trashing these electronics; b) all materials are handled in a manner that does not harm health or the environment, and; c) reuse is not left out as the better opportunity to maximize both environmental and social benefits available from this material.

This form of producer responsibility is being used more and more around the globe because of the dangerous build-up of toxic materials that have accumulated from several decades of widespread increase of production, planned obsolescence, use and disposal of consumer electronics. Individually the toxins — such as cadmium, lead, mercury and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — are highly regulated and controlled substances known to cause illness and disease in populations. But how do you control them when disbursed throughout the world in millions of computers and televisions? Who is responsible for protecting human health and the environment from these toxins? Why should those who profit from this process not be held accountable for the results?

Oregon’s E-Cycles Law acknowledges these issues and applies responsibility to all parties involved. The consumer is required by law to deliver unwanted items to a recycler; the retailer is responsible for informing the consumer of the need and opportunity to recycle, and the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring that all toxins and recyclable parts of their product are captured and put to use again without threatening health.

While the most effective strategy to protect the environment is to buy fewer electronic items in the first place, this E-Cycles law is a great step forward, and we need help spreading the word that it’s illegal to put TVs and computers in the garbage.

Styrofoam, the packing material everybody loves to hate, is now recyclable in our area. St. Vincent de Paul is now accepting block foam and peanuts for reuse and recycling at its three drive-through donation centers only.

There will be a small fee to cover the cost of handling and transport, but you can be confident that the material will be recycled into either an architectural molding product or back into a liquid petroleum fuel. Reuse is always best, and our thanks go to the Springfield UPS Store. The owners of this store have been accepting this material and breaking it up for reuse in a “green” packaging option that they say is very popular with customers.

This column is provided by Lane County Recycling. Sarah Grimm is a waste reduction specialist with Lane County Waste Management.

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