E-waste now THE waste

Monday, January 15, 2007

It was bound to happen sooner than later, and the problem is perpetuating daily to the chagrin of municipal, county, state and federal governments, the Department of Natural Resources, and environmentalists everywhere.

That problem, folks, is the disposal of millions of old, unwanted computers, televisions, cell phones, stereos, and many other electronic devices.

Over the past two decades, the world has seen the beginning of the technological revolution - a technology so advanced that it boggles the minds of even the well-educated in the field.

Along with the glut of technology choking the airwaves comes the inevitable catch-22 - what to do with the old, outdated, unwanted electronics. In ever-increasing volumes, the disposal of the units has become an enormous waste management problem.

In Iowa alone, businesses and residents discarded an estimated 500,000 personal computers last year, along with keyboards, mice and other related equipment. And, that number is expected to continue to grow.

Electronic waste is also known as e-waste, or brown goods, and refers to equipment that is considered no longer usable or wanted. Solving this mountain of e-waste is one of the DNR's top priorities. The DNR has joined forces with state and national leaders to figure out how to manage the fastest-growing contributor to the solid waste stream.

Of course, strides are being made in the potential for recycling to help curb this mountainous flow. While Iowa does have some electronics recyclers, as well as municipal and county sponsored electronics collection events, the state is handling only a fraction of all the e-waste that Iowans throw away.

Because of this, the DNR is encouraging collection options that seem most appropriate to handle the problem - drop-off points at local or regional locations, and also during local spring clean-up days conducted by many communities.

Other states have dealt with the problem through landfill bans and proposals for recycling fees payable at point of purchase.

We all would be wise to think about e-waste and look for retailers who lease or feature "take-back" options; donate their old computers, which may be of value to others, to a good cause; and make the effort to find the existing recycling locations. This can be done by visiting the DNR web site for a complete list of computer recyclers.