Originally created 01/15/04

Obsolete gadgets can find homes



The road to obsolescence is filled with upgrades.

Today's technological dazzler will be 2008's paperweight, but instead of mixing circuit boards with household trash, many consumers are finding ways to recycle their old cellular phones, computers and televisions.

Where to put all those obsolete electronics has become an issue because there's just so much of it out there. The National Recycling Coalition estimates that nearly 500 million computers have and will become obsolete between 1997 to 2007. Computer monitors are a big concern because cathode ray tubes contain lead to protect users from X-rays. A computer's circuit boards also may contain chromium, lead solder, nickel and zinc.

Bruce Keeling, the project manager for Goodwill Industries in Augusta, sees an increase in computer donations in January, when the numbers jump to two to three a day for a week after the holidays.

"Most of them are very old," he said with a laugh. "There's not a lot that you can do with them."

Mr. Keeling estimates that 40 percent of the equipment dropped off is resold as-is. The rest is stacked on pallets and sold in lots to bidders, starting at $75.

"People who buy them are computer fanatics who fix them up and resell them at the flea market or to friends," he said. "So we're getting revenue even if it's involving parts that aren't working."

Dal Stanley, the director of educational technology for Aiken County schools, periodically gets offers from people and companies wanting to unload old equipment. To avoid unneeded equipment, Mr. Stanley has prospective donors submit an inventory to make sure donations match the district's needs.

"The licensing for the software on the computer has to be legitimate, though, and you have to have a packing slip that proves that the programs are legit," he said. "It's a software compliance issue."

He estimated that less than a quarter of the Aiken County school district's nearly 8,000 computers are donated, and he suggested donors contact their church or local school to find someone who can use their old machines.

If computer parts don't go to the landfill, they might end up at a recycler such as Marc/5R. The company, based in Glen Flora, Wis., also has a facility in Lithonia, Ga., where the warehouse manager, Ken Clark, said the facility processes 500 to 1,000 computer monitors every day.

"We'll take anything with a circuit board," he said. "Material that is sellable, we make attempts to market it here."

Marc/5R's suppliers are companies, government agencies and individuals who, Mr. Clark said, drive as long as 45 minutes to drop monitors off.

"People will put them in the closet or in the basement and not worry about it. It's when they realize what's in them that they become concerned," he said.

On a government level, there are projects such as Athens-Clarke County's second residential computer and television recycling collection, which was Nov. 15. Residents who brought televisions or monitors were charged $5 to offset Marc/5R's $10 fee, and 978 items weighing 9.54 tons were collected, including 79 televisions and 207 computer monitors.

Karen Savitini, a program education specialist for the Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department, said the collection showed that handling console televisions will become a challenge as they're replaced by flat-screen models. She said she also was surprised at how accepting people were to the fee and at the prevalence of relatively new equipment.

"People have old equipment that works fine, but they buy something new and it's easier to just stack it in the basement than actually bring it somewhere," she said.

So far, it's the only program of its kind in Georgia or South Carolina, but Gloria Hardegree, the executive director of the Georgia Recycling Coalition, said the program's success was heartening.

"You have to pay a fee to dispose of it at the landfill anyway, so what's the difference in paying to have it disposed properly?" she said. "It's not like we're getting rich recycling."

Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or patrick.verel@augustachronicle.com.