Recycling market finding a profit in old computers
The National Safety Council says more than 315 million computers will be obsolete by 2004.
As the pile of archaic equipment grows, opportunities emerge for computer recycling companies.
Peter Muscanelli, executive director of the International Association of Electronics Recyclers, cautions against entering the field too soon.
"It is a growth industry but you have to be extremely efficient at handling the material and be able to have a working knowledge of the industry itself," he said. "People are jumping in and jumping out just as fast. We are only diverting 15 percent from landfills. Our mission is to decrease that diversion by increasing recycling in the industry."
Here in Buffalo
Secure Environmental Electronics Recycling of New York LLC is a state registered electronics dismantler on Seneca Street.
The company opened last August and handles anything with computer components. It charges $6 to $10 to recycle monitors and pays $2 for complete central processing units. Keyboards are free.
"It is a specialty business but the need for computer recycling is growing," said Michael Lodick, general manager. "The mounting pile is a difficult situation to deal with. You just can't landfill these types of materials without doing some sort of harm."
Computer monitors contain cathode ray tubes that are shielded with lead to protect users. Lead levels are high enough to be hazardous and can leach into groundwater or soil if improperly handled. CPUs usually have batteries that contain mercury or zinc. Hazardous materials are segregated and shipped to recyclers while other materials retain some value.
Lodick said as more materials are recycled, component parts will be less expensive.
"By not having all the precious metals going into the ground, the price of manufacturing these parts will go down," he said. "We live in a society where if something doesn't work anymore, we purchase a new one and get rid of the old equipment."
Lodick said his company is doing more than just recycling outdated computers.
"We are trying to sell the piece of mind that you are eliminating your liability and are doing the right thing by having this material recycled," he said. "Companies want to have sure-fire documented ways to be in compliance with the regulations."
The company is working with Erie County on two collection dates in May and June for household computers. The county is encouraging its residents to dispose of old computers in an environmentally safe way for free.
"This is going to be one of the problem wastes of the immediate future," said Susan Attridge, solid waste management coordinator for Erie County. "Computers are becoming more obsolete than ever before. This is something the county is going to have to do on a permanent basis."
Erie I BOCES represents 19 school districts in Erie County and has a working relationship with the company. The organization recycles up to 5,000 units a year.
"There is so much pent-up demand in school districts and in the private sector," said Michael Roberts, purchasing manager. "This allows us the avenue to get rid of these machines. We try to keep ahead of it because we don't have a lot of storage space."
BOCES supplies computers to various schools and every school district is faced with getting rid of outdated equipment.
"Some people were just tossing them in the garbage," Roberts said. "We used to hold a public auction and a lot of it was cost prohibitive. Having the systems recycled is worth every penny. What is being reclaimed and brought back into the environment is great but what can't be saved is disposed of properly."
Computers for Children finds new life for donated computers by performing upgrades and placing them in schools, increasing student access to current technology. A $10 donation is required for a total computer unit with a 486 megahertz processor or higher. A $20 donation is required for lesser models.
Managing Director Christine Carr said the nonprofit organization is on the same page with recycling companies as far as goals are concerned.
"Our first mission is take machines that are reusable and fit them with local schools," she said. "We work with area recyclers to identify those parts that are obsolete or too old to run current software. We do have requirements but unfortunately we get the unwanteds."
The Western New York Health Care Association and United Shared Services has been working with the company for the last six months. The relationship has enabled the group purchasing organization the ability to free up storage space.
"Hospitals are keenly aware of the affects of recycling," said Jennifer Clock, senior vice president of operations. "We run into problems with smaller organizations that are not aware. We hope to reach out to our vendors as well and educate them about this opportunity."
Clock said it makes sense for a lot of companies and organizations to do this but cost is always a factor.
"If you are going to get rid of a whole truck full of monitors, it is going to cost," she said. "Our main concern was that the hazardous materials was being taken care of in an environmentally safe way."
Trico Products Corp. is closing its plant on Washington and Ellicott streets. Part of the remedial process is to dispose of all computer related equipment.
"Every three years you are into a new instrumentation data field," said Gary Pokorski, environmental health and safety manager. "You are constantly upgrading your system. Storage of old equipment ties up manufacturing space and is a safety hazard."
Pokorski said companies that don't recycle this type of equipment are subject to liability.
"There is no statute of limitations for environmental crimes," he said. "Getting involved with electronics recycling makes sense. On the preventive side, you are making a benefit to the environment and putting reusable materials back on the market."