The numbers are in. When it comes to recycling computers and monitors, Texas sucks. Not only sucks, but out of the 20 states with computer recycling laws, Texas finished dead last, according to a study by the educational nonprofit, Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund.
The organization recently examined computer recycling programs across the country during their first years of operation and found that in Texas, 15,247,207 pounds of electronics were recovered for recycling, about 0.62 pounds per capita. That was by far the lowest amount. Minnesota, for instance, collected 6.36 pounds per capita, more than ten times that of Texas. Washington, Oregon, Maine, Rhode Island and others all recovered more computers for recycling per person.
Toxic materials such as lead and mercury are contained in computers and monitors, and environmentalists say these toxins can contaminate groundwater, air and soil if tossed in a landfill and not properly recycled.
The Texas Computer TakeBack Law was signed into law in 2007, requiring computer manufacturers in Texas to provide free and convenient recycling. Under the law, the burden is on the companies to formulate and implement programs.
Texas would have fared far worse if not for the efforts of Dell. According to the study, the company, through its recycling partnership with Goodwill, recovered nearly 85 percent of the Texas total. Zac Trahan, program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund, tells Hair Balls that Dell was so successful because they publicized their program well, would accept any brand of computer, and by using Goodwill donation spots, had lots of convenient drop-offs for folks to use.
Trahan says Dell's efforts went above and beyond the law, which he says defers to mail-back recycling programs that are not as well publicized or as convenient.
"We were not that surprised by the numbers," says Trahan, "because we knew that the way the law was structured it did not have some of the benchmarks and goals that other states have put in place. So we knew it would not be the most effective law."
In Minnesota, says Trahan, manufacturers are required to recycle 60 percent of their nationwide sales from the previous year, and in Oregon, Washington State and Rhode Island, manufacturers must provide convenient drop-offs in every county. Maine goes so far as to require municipalities to collect the computers and bring them to a recycling hub.
"When a manufacturer collects over a million pounds in other states, but nothing or next to nothing in Texas, it becomes obvious that collection goals or recycling targets, convenience standards, landfill prohibition, public education and outreach along with strong enforcement provisions -- all absent in the Texas law -- drive manufacturers to set up effective [recycling] programs," states the nonprofit organization's report.
Trahan says he was surprised to see that many manufacturers "would shirk their responsibilities under the law," evidenced, he says, by the fact that more than half of the manufacturers in Texas collected no recycling at all.
"The law requires that manufacturers file a recycling plan with the state, " says Trahan, "but the state does not have the power to approve or deny the plan. The law only requires that the plan be submitted."
This is just one of the many areas of the law that Trahan wants to see beefed up. He and his group are calling for Texas to join 10 states which have passed bans on putting computers and electronics in landfills, to fund public education in order to better let people know how and where to recycle their computers, and to institute convenience requirements to meet the needs of the average Joe.
"The current law is a start," says Trahan, "but the fact that we ranked dead last shows that we still have a lot of work to do."
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