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e-Waste, a growing problem
by David DeMulle’ Ph.D.
E-Waste recycling is the latest catch word in the increasing lexicon of everyday terms.
For years, people have been sorting paper, cans and bottles from their trash. But what about that old model computer stashed in the closet or garage? The term e-Waste includes not only desktop computers and monitors, but all the peripherals that go with them such as printers, scanners, modems and servers.
Also included in our new technological cornucopia are cellular phones, faxes, copiers, telecommunications equipment, and any other device that contains electronic circuitry.
Computers are the largest single element of e-Waste
that is accumulating throughout the nation, in garages, attics and closets. As technology creates computers that are
smaller, quicker and have greater capacities for data storage, the friendly
computer that was the center of your life just last year, is now obsolete. The California Integrated Waste management
Board (CIWMB) estimates that in
Now for the real problem,
computer monitors contain lead. A heavy
metal found to cause brain damage and birth defects. Both Federal and State Environmental Protection
Agencies have declared these devices to be hazardous waste and cannot be
So what can you do with
them? Some still work, some are
non-functional. It is becoming an overwhelming
problem, not just in
Even they have become overburdened by the amounts of computers dropped off at their sites.
And they are not alone, companies large and small have the same problem that the typical householder has, just on a larger scale. So how does the computer in your office, warehouse, closet, or garage find its way to the proper recycling centers.
The City of
Organizations such as OSS-Spectrum located in Tujunga, and SoCal Computer Recycling in
Computers must be handled with care. If a computer is mishandled, any potential reuse value may be lost. The personal and private data contained on the hard drive must be removed. (Remember those personal e-mails you wrote and received or your tax data and those bills you paid electronically?)
If the computer is determined to be non-reusable, it is broken down into its recyclable components for resale to companies that re-construct computers for sale.
Computers are made up of components such as plastics, metals, and glass. If OSS-Spectrum cannot use or rebuild the e-Waste they receive, they send them to a sister company In Los Angeles for processing into glass, copper, aluminum and fiber pellets.
There are only three DTSC
permitted End of Life recyclers in
So, what is the process for recycling e-Waste?
There are three steps to e-Waste recycling
1. The first step is the collection of e-Waste from organizations such as Los Angeles County Agencies, large corporations, small businesses and the local residents. All units are checked for reusability of the collected computer equipment. Workers determine if the equipment can be cleaned up, new software installed and made ready for donation or sales. The non usable equipment is separated by categories. i.e. monitors, CPUs, printers, fax machines and copiers. The non reusable equipment is sent to the disassembly area.
2. The second step is the actual tearing down to sort the metals, electronic components, CRTs, and plastics contained in the e-Waste. After disassembling, sorting and packaging, they are sent to the materials processor for reduction into base materials called commodities.
3. This is the last step of the recycling process. The processor uses a massive grinder and a centrifuge to reclaim the base materials of gold, copper, aluminum, lead glass and fiberboard. These reclaimed commodities are now made available for sale to smelters and commodities brokers. The cycle is now complete.
In the year 2000, they received their
CIWMB permit to handle cathode
ray tubes (CRT). This was when an
emergency law was passed in
Dr. David DeMulle’, Senior
Analyst at OSS-Spectrum, began working with Senator’s Sher and Romero’s offices
and other environmental groups to create Senate Bill 20. This bill which was passed by the
One of the major provisions of
SB-20, is the charging of a recycling fee on all CRT
devices in excess of 4 inches manufactured in
Of secondary importance is the shipping
SB-20 attempts to restrict, the amount of California e-Waste being exported by requiring the recyclers to provide specific details of what country the items are being sent to, and if those countries have specific laws regulating the importation of hazardous wastes.
E-Waste is becoming a major environmental problem throughout the world. Before you toss your used electronics into the dumpster, call your City Hall for the name of a local e-Waste handler. For more information, log on to www.spectrumwest.com or call (888) 4-E-WASTE.
18 December 2004 (c) SRL