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Legislation would keep 'e-waste' out of state's landfills
Lead lurking inside computer monitors, TVs triggers debate
By Aileo Weinmann
Lansing State Journal
12/01/03

Legislation could ban most TVs and computer monitors from Michigan dumps to reduce pollution starting in 2006.

Cathode ray tubes, or CRTs, are the guts inside a standard television or computer monitor. An average CRT has 15 pounds to 20 pounds of lead, according to Garrett Jones, sales manager at Great Lakes Electronics Recycling, a Detroit-based business.

That lead - plus smaller amounts of mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals - is what state Rep. Chris Kolb, D-Ann Arbor, wants to keep from polluting the land, air and water.

Ingested lead causes brain damage, and researchers say U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards prove CRTs leak lead from landfills.

"Right now, we're throwing hazardous waste into nonhazardous landfills," Kolb said. "The future cost is lead leaching through the air, water and soil. We need to look at how to dispose and recycle these materials."

Kolb's bill has passed the House and is in the Senate. Another bill awaiting a House vote would ban CRT incineration.

Michigan is among 29 states considering e-waste legislation. Maine, Massachusetts, California and Minnesota already ban CRTs from landfills.

California's law is the first to ban e-waste from export to foreign countries with looser environmental protections, a problem dubbed by critics as the dirty little secret of the high-tech revolution.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, spurred by Kolb's legislation, formed a task force to study the broader issue of e-waste, which is "practically anything that plugs in and beeps at you," said Lucy Doroshko, a DEQ recycling specialist.

An advance disposal fee, similar to that collected when new tires are sold, is one idea. Funding, logistics, educating the public and regulation all are unanswered questions, Doroshko said.

Estimates vary on total e-waste, but technological advances prompt consumers to push aside old TVs and computers at increasing rates. While as much as three-quarters of old electronic equipment sits idly in attics, basements and garages , owners eventually let it go.

Some experts predict 500 million U.S. computers are bound for the waste stream by 2007, accounting for 1.6 billion pounds of lead. That's roughly equivalent to the weight of 250,000 Hummer H2 trucks.

The DEQ task force is due to provide its recommendations in July, but Kolb said he's targeting CRTs now because they contain large quantities of lead and can be easily sorted out of the waste stream.

But Dan Batts, president of the Michigan Waste Industries Association, said the proposal is premature.

"I think we've got the cart out ahead of the horse here in doing an all-out ban," he said.

Batts also questioned whether research actually proves that lead leaches from electronics in landfills.

Martha Knorek, Ingham County's solid waste coordinator, said long lines at semi-annual electronics recycling collection sites demonstrate a huge demand for electronics disposal in mid-Michigan. The next local collection is scheduled for May 15, with fees possible.

In Clinton, Kalamazoo and Oakland counties, recycling centers offer semi-annual collections, with some charging fees.

Recycle Ann Arbor accepts electronics year-round for $5 to $25 per item.

Computer manufacturers offer mail-in recycling programs with fees generally around $30. Some also offer vouchers for buying new computers.

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