05/31/05 — Bill targets electronics disposal

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Bill targets electronics disposal

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on May 31, 2005 1:48 PM

A bill pending in the Legislature might help provide a way to safely dispose of obsolete electronic equipment.

That's something a local environmental organization has been working toward for years.

For the past two years, Keep Wayne County Beautiful has sponsored a semi-annual electronics recycling day. The purpose is to keep old electronic equipment, which contains harmful chemicals, out of the landfill. The events have brought in between 22,500 and 44,000 pounds of old computers and other electronic gear for recycling.

Senate Bill 1030 notes the steady increase in volume of electronic equipment in solid waste across the state. Because much of the equipment contains toxic heavy metals, officials say, a safe way to recycle the materials is necessary.

The bill proposes adding a 1 percent sales tax for electronic equipment retailers in state and an excise tax for electronics bought outside the state that will be used in North Carolina.

The proceeds would go in a special fund, and any county that adds electronic recycling to its solid waste management plan would receive money from the fund.

The money would be used to offset the costs of collection, storage, and transportation of discarded electronic devices, to help pay recycling processing fees for the devices, and to educate citizens about the recycling program.

Sen. John Kerr said that he believes the bill has merit, but said the public needs to be better educated about the danger that obsolete electronic equipment poses to the environment in order to gain support for the measure.

"People are reluctant to have unnecessary taxes," Kerr said. "We haven't had a discussion on this, but it's probably a good thing to look at."

Simonne Cato, executive director of Keep Wayne County Beautiful, said there is no national policy for recycling.

Retailers have fought proposals to put the financial burden of developing a recycling program on them. Manufacturers have likewise opposed taking the responsibility.

The National Electronic Product Stewardship Initiative brought together a coalition of recycling companies, manufacturers, retailers, government officials and the EPA but the coalition was unable to reach agreement on a policy, she said.

The objective was to stem the flow of lead and mercury from electronic components into ground water supplies, Mrs. Cato said, but there were deep disagreements on whether the cost of operating the program should be levied at the point of sale, or at the manufacturers.

"The thought was that if you create, or sell, a product that becomes obsolete so quickly you should have some responsibility for the disposal," she said.

She noted that some counties in the state, such as Wake, have electronic recycling programs in place, but that are costly to run.

Wayne's semi-annual electronics recycling day has proven a success, she said,

After seeing the need for some type of electronic recycling, Mrs. Cato contacted Franklin Smith, the owner of Franklin's Recycling Co., in Greenville. Smith has brought trucks and workers to handle the discarded items at Wayne's recycling events. He said he started his company in response to the need to keep harmful electronic equipment out of local landfills.

"Some of the computers and printers we take apart for parts," he said. "Our idea is to keep it out of the landfill. The glass and the lead is not biodegradable. But on a computer or printer, the metals all can be reused. Everything can be recycled."

Items collected included traditional consumer electronics, such as computers, printers, keyboards and scanners, as well televisions, VCRs, stereos, fax machines, digital cameras and cellular phones.

Newer video monitors are tested and, if they can be reused, recycled. Cell phones in good working condition can be repaired and resold.

Most of the equipment is ground up. Metals and plastics are sorted out. Most of the raw materials can be used again.

Ms. Cato said that people often set aside older computers, thinking they will find some use for them, but can't because they become obsolete so quickly.

"And there's no point then in hanging on to them," she said.