Saturday, March 8, 2008

One company's experience sets a standard for recycling computers and other technological equipment in an efficient, cost-effective and environmentally sound way.
While computer industry pundits are crowing, waste management officials are groaning. Lying in the wake of the more than 100 million new computers sold yearly is another phenomenon: computer graveyards.

Recognizing that waste management officials would soon see a plague of high-tech junk as old computers became obsolete, Robert Knowles Jr. saw a need for a recycling alternative and created Denver-based Technology Recycling.

Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., estimates that only about 5 percent of all computers are being recycled, and the term recycling is used rather loosely at that. Recycling, to many firms, means extracting the minute amounts of precious metals and landfilling the rest.

As this glut of high-tech junk grows larger every year, Knowles knew the waste industry needed to determine how to dispose of the materials, as well as how to divert the equipment's inherent hazardous waste.

True Technology Recycling

In 1998, Knowles was running a company specializing in central processing unit (CPU) upgrades for large, national corporate customers with offices in Colorado, such Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md., Raytheon Co., Lexington, Mass., and AT&T Corp., New York. These clients often asked him what to do with old systems that no longer could be upgraded. Somehow, it just didn't seem right to throw those systems away, but there was no alternative.

Repeatedly pressed for a solution, Knowles researched which hazardous materials were contained in computers, solid waste studies and the EPA's position on how to handle obsolete technology. It became obvious to him that high-tech junk posed potentially large disposal problems.

So that year, Knowles launched Technology Recycling and began the arduous task of educating the business community about obsolete computers and the hidden costs of warehousing these items from here to eternity.

Building the Base Unit

The company business model is simple: collect old equipment from companies, and charge them a recycling fee of $35 per component, or $35 per monitor, CPU or printer. This fee accommodates the labor, shipping and processing costs to recycle and dispose of the materials, plus a small profit.

As companies with a minimum of 10 obsolete computer components arrange for pickups through Technology Recycling's website or toll-free phone number, staffers prepare an invoice for the number of components being recycled and arrange for payment.
Originally, Technology Recycling picked up the old systems and delivered them to disabled work centers for dismantling, ultimately shipping the parts and materials to locations around the United States for processing.

Initially, businesses weren't used to recycling their computer equipment, so volume levels weren't steady, Knowles says. The biggest obstacles, in fact, were landfills that accepted the computer materials, companies that stored the old materials and created a potential environmental hazard, or companies that donated the equipment to local charities that could not use the equipment.

For example, many companies believe that they can donate their old systems to schools and nonprofit groups. Unfortunately, schools and nonprofits require systems that are Internet-ready, and older systems often cannot accommodate Internet requirements without expensive upgrades, Knowles says.

As a result, Knowles started a public relations campaign to publicize his service. Thanks to support from the Colorado media, Technology Recycling recycled about five tons of obsolete computers in its first year.


Building a Nationwide Infrastructure

By 1999, Technology Recycling had experienced solid success in Colorado and began building an infrastructure to allow expansion of its services in major cities in the continental United States. Knowles wanted to continue providing high-paying technology jobs for disabled workers, who would disassemble the systems, sort parts and materials, and then ship the goods out for reprocessing.

However, it became apparent that the disabled workshops could not handle the volume of work that started to pour in. In addition, workshop managers said that their disabled clients were better at repetitious work, and the increasing loads of computer systems coming in were vastly different from each other. Ultimately, Technology Recycling shifted to automated systems to process the obsolete computers.

As the company branched out nationwide, it began to pick up national accounts with large numbers of computer systems. Media coverage helped again in 2000, as new legislation and pending EPA decisions heightened the awareness of high-tech junk as a looming environmental problem.

Currently, the EPA is working on strengthening regulations for dumping computer equipment. A number of states, with Massachusetts in the lead, have adopted legislation that bans landfilling old computer systems because of the potential affects of its hazardous substances.

Gradually, more businesses began to appreciate the value of being environmentally responsible, in terms of community relations and various perks and tax credits offered by many states. As a result, Technology Recycling's business grew exponentially business volume increased tenfold in the year 2000, Knowles says.

On Nov. 15, 2000, America Recycles Day, Technology Recycling announced a series of milestones:

In its 30 months of business, the company had collected and diverted approximately 100 tons of obsolete computer systems, or roughly 10 to 15 tons of lead, from landfills.
The company had acquired a roster of key national accounts, such as Budweiser, Norwest Banks, Guaranty Bank and Trust, Phillips Electronics, the National Park Service and Multum Infoservices.

Strict adherence to EPA disposal standards has earned the company preferred status in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington. These states now refer companies seeking computer disposal services to Technology Recycling.
Keeping Good Company

Knowles attributes much of his company's success to a growing awareness that obsolete computers and other types of high-tech junk facsimile machines, copiers, mainframe computers, etc. contain significant amounts of hazardous materials. Specifically, old computer components contain a long list of toxic substances, including lead, cadmium, mercury, silver, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorofluorocarbons/freons (CFCs), phosphors, tungsten, lithium, nickel cadmium (NiCAD), copper, iron, silver-oxide, mercury-oxide and zinc-carbon.
Of this list, lead, cadmium, mercury and silver are dangerous enough to each have their own EPA-designated hazardous materials number. (See the Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] 40, Sections 255-270.)

Additionally, many companies recognize that it's more cost-effective to dispose of old systems and buy new ones, rather than refurbish them. Knowles notes he receives several calls per week from various nonprofits, such as local chapters of Goodwill Industries, asking what to do with obsolete systems that cannot be sold.

Businesses also turn to Technology Recycling when issues related to refurbishing equipment arise such as product liability for the refurbisher and copyright violations for software licenses because there could be patent violations when putting non-approved parts into a computer.
Because the company classifies computer equipment by serial number before it is dismantled, Knowles says his company can certify its disposal process. Once equipment is taken apart, Technology Recycling provides written documents certifying the system's destruction so that companies don't have to worry about confidentiality. This Technology Recycling documentation also can be used to remove the old systems from property tax rosters.

Expanding Beyond

Eventually, Technology Recycling's management believes it can grow by expanding into all facets of automated office equipment, including facsimile machines, copiers, phone systems, mail equipment, mainframes, typewriters, uninterruptable power supply devices (UPSs), and all networking equipment such as routers, bridges and servers. In fact, in February, the company announced its ability to collect and dispose of several types of high-tech junk. Plans also are under way to expand into selected areas of Europe.

Knowles believes that business will continue to be good into 2001, predicting that Technology Recycling will divert another 500 tons of obsolete computers from landfills in 2001.
For information, call (800) 803-5442, or visit www.techrecycle.com.

K. Courtney DeWinter is a free-lance writer based in Denver.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Big Oil

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- As crude futures pushed to an inflation adjusted, all-time high of $103.95 a barrel this week, a measure to shift about $18 billion in tax credits for the U.S. petroleum industry to wind and solar energy landed in the U.S. Senate.

The Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008, which currently contains the change in tax credits, is one of several courses of action now under scrutiny in Congress. Some legislators are looking to the oil and gas giants for much-needed revenue in a world where triple-digit oil prices remain a reality for the foreseeable future.

In turn, the lobbying effort over energy-related taxes in Washington has ramped up considerably, with oil companies squaring off against a collection of industry groups from business, environmental and labor groups.

No major votes are expected this week in the Senate, observers said.

Legislators are looking to oil and gas giants for much-needed revenue. In turn, the lobbying effort over energy-related taxes in Washington has ramped up.

Under the renewable tax credit approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, $18 billion of subsidies for big oil companies would be channeled into renewable-energy resources.
That's an idea not being greeted warmly by companies that produce and sell energy from fossil fuels. While record prices help oil producers, it squeezes refining margins as the cost of crude outpaces gasoline prices at the pump.

Even if retail gasoline prices hit $5 a gallon this year, companies that extract precious crude from the ground will continue to reap rewards, but at a higher cost of doing business.
The No. 1 U.S. oil giant, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:

XOM 86.69, -0.50, -0.6%) , ramped up its rhetoric on Monday, arguing that it needs to keep spending big money to maintain and grow production to meet an expected 35% jump in world oil demand by 2030.

Exxon has pledged to increase its $20 billion a year in development costs, while hailing "stable tax policies" as "critical" to meet America's growing energy needs.

In 2007, Exxon disclosed income taxes of $30 billion on revenue of $390 billion and net income of $40.6 billion, a new record. Including income, sales-based and all other taxes, Exxon paid $105.7 billion in 2007 taxes, or about 44% of its revenue. Averaged out from 2003-07, the company calculated that it paid about $13 billion a year in U.S. taxes.

Still, the profits by major oil companies will likely stay in the spotlight for the time being, with Americans reeling from higher food and gas prices tied to crude.

Congress is going over a production tax-credit extension, the creation of a national renewable-portfolio standard and climate-change legislation -- all of which are related to energy and oil.
Groups pushing for renewable-energy support include the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the American Institute of Architects, among others.

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industry Association, said that the coalition supports the extension of renewable-energy tax credits, but signaled some flexibility on whether the money would come directly from oil and gas companies or from some other means.
He commented that while fossil-fuel firms have gotten permanent tax credits in the past, the renewable-energy business has faced expiration dates every two years.

"We'd like to see tax credits consistent with those enjoyed by other technologies," Resch added.
Is what's good for Exxon good for the country?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in Washington have asserted that the oil industry doesn't necessarily need extra tax credit right now.
The United States should instead invest the tax credits in renewable resources that will reduce dependence on foreign oil and stoke the creation of jobs.

"We'll have all kinds of new jobs built around these new green technologies," Pelosi said in an interview last week.
Proponents of the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Act of 2008 said that it would help safeguard as many as 116,000 jobs and $19 billion in clean-energy investment.
The measure comes as oil companies continue to take heat for huge profits tied to eye-popping oil prices.
On the presidential campaign trail, Sen. Barack Obama is chastising Exxon Mobil specifically and corporate lobbyists in general for allegedly stacking the deck against ordinary Americans.
"It's a game where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits, while you pay the price at the pump and our planet is put at risk," he said in a speech last month.
Others are championing the cause of the oil companies, such as conservative columnist Ben Stein. He argued that pension funds from mom-and-pop investors are the biggest shareholders in Exxon Mobil, and that its profits trickle down through dividends, higher stock prices and the more intangible benefit of having a steady river of gas at the pump.

"Big Oil is big us. And we need us," Stein wrote this week.

Steve Gelsi is a reporter for MarketWatch in New York.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

DURING THE PAST two years, numerous newspapers and television stories have focused on the management of electronic waste (e-waste), such as personal computers, televisions and cell phones. Usually, e-waste is considered a problem because ever-increasing amounts will be thrown away in the next few years. Additionally, many types of e-waste fail the toxic characteristic leachate procedure (TCLP) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's (RCRA) Subtitle C regulations.

Two states have banned e-waste disposal in Subtitle D landfills. Massachusetts has a wide-ranging ban, for which it created a grant fund for e-waste materials recycling. California bans cathode ray tubes (CRTs) from Subtitle D landfills. But the problem with California's restriction is that waste haulers and local governments are responsible for e-waste recycling costs.
Last year, California tried to add financial viability to its program through a $10 point-of-purchase recycling fee on certain electronic products, but the legislation was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis.

To help offset recycling's cost, Congress introduced legislation requiring a similar $10 fee when purchasing a laptop computer, notebook or monitor (H.R. 1165). However, most state and federal legislation dies without a hearing.

A decade ago, when states passed significant legislation requiring recycling, few states included financial support for their programs.

As a result, maintaining recycling programs and encouraging entrepreneurship for new recycling markets has been a continual struggle. The industry is hopeful that the knowledge gained from this experience will help to develop e-waste programs.

At the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), members and staff recently approved an industry policy about e-waste disposal and recycling to help direct decisionmakers. The policy emphasizes that the waste industry supports mandated e-waste recycling, but only when the mandate is backed by sound financing.

NSWMA's policy discussed two ways that already exist to recycle e-waste. The first approach is called “take-back” legislation, through which product manufacturers are responsible for receiving used electronic products and guaranteeing their safe recycling or disposal. The second method uses an “advance recycling fee,” which consumers pay at purchase time, to fund the recycling of electronic products. The key to these programs is that recycling becomes financially viable, the cost is distributed fairly to the users of the products and the entities that know best how to re-use such materials are the ones who receive them.

The four components of developing good e-waste and recycling programs are outlined in NSWMA's policy:

Build upon existing solid waste and recycling infrastructure for e-waste collection and processing.

Provide financial support for e-waste recycling through advance recycling fees or take-back provisions.

Ensure environmental, health and safety standards for the proper management of collected materials, including reporting and documentation procedures for end-markets.
Support programs that develop new processing technologies and new markets, including those that use recycled content in new electronic products. Also, in the case of take-back programs, support those that rate and date e-waste to ensure accountability.

Eventually, e-waste recycling will be the subject of national legislation, allowing manufacturers and distributors to create more financially viable programs as opposed to separate plans for individual states. And to the extent that states decide to move forward with their individual e-waste recycling programs, the waste industry will continue to work with decision-makers in understanding how to make sense of the options.

For more information on NSWMA's policy and recycling efforts, contact Chaz Miller, director of state programs toll-free at (800) 424-2869 or e-mail cmiller@envasns.org.
Alice P. Jacobsohn is the EIA's manager of public affairs and industry research.

Monday, March 3, 2008

AN ELECTRONICS RECYCLING company has decided that too many cooks don't always make a bad recipe. Phoenix-based Nxtcycle has announced results for its Shared Responsibility Program, which began in August 2002 and spread the burden of electronic waste (e-waste) recycling among manufacturers, retailers, municipalities, and waste processing and management facilities.

With Panasonic, Sharp and Sony underwriting the costs of recycling their own products collected, Nxtcycle has rounded-up approximately 39,000 electronic products from 16 special event collections in seven states and 19 permanent drop-off sites in three states from August to December 2002. Approximately 4,300 cathode ray tubes (CRTs) collected came from sponsoring manufacturers, Nxtcycle says.

Some municipalities have held single-day events, and others sponsored ongoing e-waste collection. The highest concentration of successful collection records was in Southern California, where approximately 25,000 products were collected.

To the north, the city of San Jose, Calif., presents residents opportunities to recycle electronic waste through two ongoing programs. One is the bulky goods program in which residents pay $21.25 to have three items picked up on a specially arranged curbside pickup. The other option is a neighborhood cleanup program that leads trucks through city neighborhoods every weekend allowing residents to bring out debris boxes containing anything they choose. Although this program does not specifically target e-waste, residents are permitted to put monitors and other items containing CRTs in the boxes. Once collected, the CRTs go to the Nxtcycle processing facility in Utah. Last year, San Jose recycled 175 tons of CRTs.

According to Cynthia Dunn of the city of San Jose Environmental Services Department, Integrated Waste Management Division, a clarification letter from the state Department of Toxic Substance Control that arrived in spring 2001 pushed the city to think critically about how to keep CRTs out of the waste stream. “We're working on longer-term solutions,” Dunn says. “But right now it's going to be difficult to keep [e-waste recycling] as a priority because the city of San Jose has not taken an official position on e-waste. But we have a team that's researching and making recommendations.”

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