E-waste: a multi-pronged appoach

Computers have an average life expectancy of three to six years. After that, it's often time to pull the plug, leaving consumers with a problem: What to do with the old?Chances are the local landfill won't take it.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

What to do with all the computers monitors and other hardware after they are outmoded? We can't leave them to leach toxic metals into the landfill or drop them off at Goodwill. Currently, legislation is crawling through Congress, and only three states - California, Maine and Maryland - have enacted laws regarding recycling the stuff. But differing state regulations could "create confusion that could be minimized or eliminated with a single, unified nationwide system," reports Government Technology.

 "Our dream is that there is federal legislation harmonized at a worldwide level," said Renee St. Denis, director of Americas Product Take Back at HP. "That's probably a pipe dream, but we think federal legislation in the United States is probably -- on some level -- inevitable, because as states do their own thing, it's really tough to comply."

Putting pressure on manufacturers to make their products last longer and reusing parts is one tactic.

Directing responsibility at manufacturers motivates them to improve design to lower waste costs, said Jon Hinck, staff attorney of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), the organization largely responsible for lobbying on behalf of Maine's legislation and seeing it through to enactment.

 "If you have a more manufacturer responsibility-based approach, manufacturers will bring the efficiencies that private interests bring to getting something done," Hinck said.

Some manufacturers are striving to comply with laws and tackle the problem of e-waste. 

 HP recycles almost 4 million pounds per month, said St. Denis.

 "We take old products apart that HP owns, refurbish them and use them to support customers who have the same thing," she said. "It's standard industry process to use used parts in support. It's in the contractual terms."

 Reusing selective computer parts creates unusable leftovers, and St. Denis was charged with researching options for disposing of or recycling those leftovers. She approached Noranda, a Canadian mining company already recycling precious metals for HP, to ask if additional metals or other materials in computer electronics could be recycled.

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