Computer Disposal Bill Wins Approval

 Article from The Sun

Assembly OKs creating collection system to allay environmental hazards.

by Dennis O'Brien

Disposing of old computers, printers, cell phones and other electronics would be less of an environmental hazard if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signs into law a measure approved by the General Assembly.

The legislation requires the state Department of the Environment to set up a collection system by January 2006. But first, the department must form a study group to make recommendations to the governor and General Assembly by the end of the year.

Technology, environmental and solid waste officials will serve on the group, said Del. Dan K. Morhaim, the physician and Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the measure. Morhaim said the group must come up with a way to fund the system.

"The important thing is that everybody is at the table and everybody's committed," he said. "You don't want to rush ahead and do it the wrong way."

Morhaim and others compare the dangers from old computers to those created by lead paint in older homes, which has caused illness and brain damage in children.

Computer monitors are made with cathode ray tubes that create images on screens, and are encased in 3 pounds to 5 pounds of lead to shield users from radiation.

The number of personal computers headed to landfills each year is unclear. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a California-based environmental group, estimates that 300 million to 600 million personal computers are obsolete and could be dumped in the next few years.

Howard, Wicomico, Montgomery and Prince George's counties operate permanent electronic recycling programs. Other jurisdictions periodically schedule dates for residents to drop off electronics at schools or other facilities.

Morhaim said current efforts are insufficient because many consumers might ignore or never hear about such recycling events.

It is legal to throw a computer in the trash, and he is concerned that some computers are being incinerated, fouling the air with lead and other toxics.

Morhaim initially proposed requiring computer dealers to charge recycling "take back fees" on every computer sold. Another proposal would have made computer manufacturers responsible for collecting and recycling their equipment.

But at a hearing in February, retailers argued that fees would give an advantage to out-of-state and over-the-Internet dealers.

"You have different companies wanting to take different approaches," said Jason Linnell, a spokesman for the Electronic Industries Alliance, which represents 2,500 computer manufacturers and dealers.

Linnell said the fairest system would set the same rules for computer manufacturers and dealers nationwide.

Originally published April 14, 2004