- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

District resident Matt Braman buys new cellular phones and hand-held and desk computers every couple of years. His newest acquisition is a 2.4-gigahertz desktop computer with an 18-inch flat screen.
"I'm a real technology enthusiast," Mr. Braman says. "It's important to me to have the latest and greatest."
Though he knows where to go to find the newest technology, he's not always sure where to discard his old electronics.
"I'm not very good about that," he says. "Sometimes I give it to charity … and sometimes it just ends up in a drawer."
Mr. Braman is not alone in his quandary. As people continue to buy new electronics every couple of years, outdated electronic equipment is starting to pile up literally in landfills.
There are ways to recycle or reuse those products, however. Several electronics companies, including Dell, Best Buy and AT&T; either have recycling events throughout the year, during which people can bring their outdated products, or have permanent drop-offs at stores.
Dell has a Web-based service called Dellexchange.com that offers the owner of an outdated computer four ways to dispose of a computer: auction it off to the highest bidder, trade it in for something newer, donate it to a nonprofit or recycle it.
"We want to help consumers share their computers," says Dell spokeswoman Michele Glaze. "It may be too old for you, but someone else might be able to use it."
Dell accepts all brands of computers, Ms. Glaze says, "but if it turns out that there is absolutely no value left in the computer, we inform people of the nearest recycling facility."
AT&T; accepts old cellular phones at any AT&T; Wireless retail store. Other wireless phone companies have similar policies.
"Customers can bring their used wireless phones, accessories and batteries to any of our stores," says Alexa Kaufman, spokeswoman for AT&T; Wireless. "We accept our competitors' phones as well."
Several Best Buy stores nationwide have annual recycling events when people can bring in their spent appliances and electronic equipment.
Local governments also are in the business of recycling and reusing electronic trash.
The District and Fairfax County have annual events, while the Montgomery County Computer Recycling Program has a permanent drop-off place at its Rockville recycling center.

Last year, the Montgomery County Computer Recycling Program took in 405 tons of computers, says Tom Kusterer, manager for the program. "We received at least 35 tons of computers each month," Mr. Kusterer says, "so, I would say that's a pretty good response."
The "dumped" computers go to Computer Donation Management, a company in Baltimore that donates old computers to charities or, if they're too old and decrepit, dismantles them and sends the metals, plastics and glass to be recycled.
These two destinations for old computers illustrate the two ways electronics can get a second life: "Reuse" means used as is by a new owner; "recycle" means electronics are dismantled, and each part gets recycled and made into something else.
"There are precious metals on the circuit boards platinum, some gold and silver, which are melted down and can be used for something completely different," says Mike Fannon, co-owner of Computer Donation Management.
Other metals include steel, which might go to an auto shredder, and aluminum, which may end up as an aluminum can in a later life.
"The scrap-metal market is very solid," Mr. Fannon says.
The same can't be said for plastic.
Plastic is a composite product and is much more difficult to reverse back into a "pure" state the way metals can be, says Philip DeShong, chairman of the chemistry and biochemistry department at the University of Maryland.
Some forms of plastic are crunched up and used in concrete and asphalt for roads, Mr. DeShong says.
"That's what's done with tires, for example they're ground up and used in asphalt," he says.
The next step rather than recycling plastic is for manufacturers to create a biodegradable plastic for the cover of cellular phones and computers, he says.
"We trying to figure out how to do it," Mr. DeShong says, "but it's going to be much more expensive. Most people want to spend $25 on a cell phone. These phones might be hundreds of dollars."
Manufacturers already have come up with more environment-friendly solutions, including the flat-screen monitors for desktop computers.
Old televisions and computer monitors have up to 4 pounds of lead in them, while flat-screen monitors contain no lead. Some of them have a slight mercury content, but some are free from toxic components, Mr. DeShong says.
Cellular phones, by virtue of their constantly diminishing size, also are becoming more environmentally friendly, says David Diggs, executive director of the Wireless Foundation, which donates phones to the underprivileged.
"Compare the amount of plastic on a new cell phone and an old one," Mr. Diggs says. "Remember, in the early days they weighed a whole pound."
• • •
While progress has been made in recycling, advocates, including Mr. DeShong, say much more is needed.
More than 3.2 million tons of electronic waste end up in the landfills each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
A mere 11 percent of discarded computers were recycled in 2001. The rate of reuse is about the same, according to one EPA official.
One way to increase the rate of recycling of electronics is to make it more accessible, some advocates say. They point to the great response to curbside recycling pickups for paper, plastic and aluminum, which are carried out in more than 10,000 communities.
"We might not have that kind of dramatic success with electronic trash," one EPA official says, "but the success of the curbside programs shows that people in general are interested in recycling."
The future of successful recycling is twofold: Manufacturers have to work on designing the "problem" out of the products, Mr. DeShong says, while consumers have to make the effort to recycle or reuse as opposed to dumping in landfills.
"It may be that we have to move toward what they have in Europe," Mr. DeShong says. "There, 75 percent of your car has to be recyclable."

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