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California Considering Recycling Fees on PCs 325

Jeff writes: "It looks like two US senators are introducing bills that would impose recycling fees on new computer systems sold. These bills look to cover every high-tech product a consumer might buy, including computer and video monitors, desktop and notebook PCs, and handheld gadgets."
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California Considering Recycling Fees on PCs

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  • Remember, these monitors will only be worth 5c in most states, but if we take them to michigan we can double our money!
    • I just posted this in response to a poste from poemofatic (dunno) under Unintended Results From U.S. Hardware Dumps In Asia [], which was run earlier, but seems relevent here, too, particularly considering the tack taken by anti-snot's post. about a surcharge at the time of purchase to pay for disposal? Businesses could make a living disposing of these things according to some guidelines.

      Sort of the California Redemption value, eh? You'd have to make it enough or stuff would still end up in dumps.

      Glass, aluminum and even composite containers have the CRV charged, a few cents. I regularly saw a couple men going through the dumpsters and recycling bins at my old apartment complex, collecting cans. I had a couple six packs of beer bottles ready for recycling and left them out by the dumpster, where they could easily get them, but the left them in favor of lighter aluminum. So I had to take them over the the glass bin. Two grocery bags full of bottles is about $2, whereas at 10c each it's a tidy sum in Michigan and you rarely see a returnable can or bottle lie idle for long.

      I've long felt that composite containers, let along PC circuit boards, are a problem to recycle due to the various compounds they are made of, and difficult to break down. If there were any regulation passed which taxed things, it should be to discourage things like juice boxes, which are often plastic, aluminum and paper all bonded together. Tax the companies which use such packaging, to encourage development and use of recyclable packaging. A similar strategy should be applied to electronics, as I expect there currently is none at all, even a small step is a step.

      I feel the last part is in this spirit, encourage design for recycling, put the burden on the designer and manufacturer, because once it's in the end user's hands, he has little reason to recycle it, unless there was a core deposit, like on auto parts, to encourage return.

      Of course this could be trickier for those of us who by seperate components and build our systems.

  • If I show that my firewall/router is a 386sx 8Mb running OpenBSD?

  • Recycling Fees (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DimitryP ( 560878 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @09:54AM (#3069833)
    If these bills pass, does this mean that we will have to pay a recycling fee when we buy the computer, and then pay a recycling company to do it, or will the recycling itself actually be free now?
  • Why do politicians and authorities always come to solutions that never work out in the end.

    Charging a recycling fee is only going to make people throw their computers (and worse monitors) into the trash (or worse the river) instead of properly disposing of them.

    You have to make it easy for people or they won't do it. Because people are lazy.

    • I don't think it will really make people throw them away. The whole point of the fee is to facilitate the recycling - which is done outside the normal consumer's hands anyway. As far as the fee goes - I don't think most people will even know they're paying it. We need something other than dumping our machines in Asia for "recycling" there. Just my $0.02

      Cheers - JP
      • We need something other than dumping our machines in Asia for "recycling" there.

        Maybe so, but what these bills will do is require the mfgs to take back their used equipment and pay "recycling" fees to some politically-favored company to dump the stuff in Asia...
    • Charging a recycling fee is only going to make people throw their computers (and worse monitors) into the trash

      While that may be true for fees for getting rid of computers, the fee this article is talking about charging is when you buy the computer. If a few dollars more is going to make someone dump their new system into the trash on the way out of the store, I'm not sure it's the politicians that are misguided.

    • This is absolutely correct.

      What they should do is charge a deposit on electronic equipment, and pay you to return it to the recycling cengter.
    • by Vortran ( 253538 ) <> on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:20AM (#3069944) Homepage
      Umm.. how do you "properly dispose" of useless electronic equipment? We have horrendous amounts of this stuff. Big industry continues to bury the planet in things like inkjet cartridges and mini CD-Rs, not to mention things like old CRTs (lotsa lead) and hard disk drives.

      You make a valid criticism, but do you have a better solution?

      What does it take to break down an old PC into its constituent parts (iron, aluminum, plastic, copper, etc..) so that it can be re-used? Is it possible? Is it practical? What about smelting?

      I guess my concern would be that there may not be a good target for the money, so they'd collect it, but never setup a nationwide recycling system.. so where would the money go? I shudder to think. I'd say "go for it" if they have a very solid plan to setup (the very costly) infrastructure to ACTUALLY recycle discarded consumer electronic devices.

      Vortran out
      • by caesar-auf-nihil ( 513828 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:07PM (#3070608)
        Its not quite as difficult as you think to recycle electronic equipment, although there are some difficulties.
        In Europe, the law around electronic equipment works as follows. The company that produces the equipment is responsible for its care, use, and disposal before the sale and AFTER the consumer is done with it. While the consumer owns it, its their responsiblity. But when the consumer is done with it, it goes back to the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM). The OEM then disassembles the equipment, and recycles what it can. If the plastic can be reground and reprocessed, that is done. Glass (where possible) is melted down, all metal components are melted down as well (or reused for the same model or other model electronic equipment. Screws, bolts and brackets for example). Difficult items to recycle include circuit boards (epoxy plastic, metal (some of it toxic), silicon and semiconductors), cathode ray tubes, and sometimes the plastic.

        What the European OEMs try to do is reuse what they can and incenerate the rest. If the plastic cannot be reused (off color, decomposed), they'll just burn it up and recycle the energy gained from combustion. However, materials that don't burn (semiconductors, silicon, etc.) are left as slag in the incenerator, and also are concentrated in toxic elements which can leach into ground water. How to deal with this waste is currently a big sticking point for the recyling of electronics waste. There are some refining techniques that one can use to separate out the elements in this inorganic "slag", but, they're quite expensive, and, there currently is no desire/regulations in place to reuse this slag material. Electronic circuit board OEMs and chip OEMs don't want to use material from this slag for fear of contamination may ruin finely tuned electronic properties, which are often affected by minute impurities. Part of the reuse taxes that EU citizens pay goes towards research to solve this issue, and set up an infrastructure to get the whole recyling system to work.

        There are systems in place to get this to work, so you just have to give them time to catch up and get fully implimented. It took 10+ years to get PET and HDPE (#1 and #2 plastic) to the level where it was widely implimented and cost effective. Electronics recycling has probably only been going on for 3 years now, so give it time.
      • You make a valid criticism, but do you have a better solution? What does it take to break down an old PC into its constituent parts (iron, aluminum, plastic, copper, etc..) so that it can be re-used? Is it possible? Is it practical?

        Sure. As mentioned in a Slahsdot article yesterday, it is possible. You load it up on a boat, send it to China, they pick apart the pieces that are useful and can be used again and then they either burn what's left over or throw it in one of their rivers.

        And they actually pay to pick it up in the U.S. Instead of paying a tax to recycle the computer we can get paid by the Chinese to take it off our hands. Free market at work, not even that complicated.

    • Charging a recycling fee is only going to make people throw their computers (and worse monitors) into the trash (or worse the river) instead of properly disposing of them.

      That's why you charge the fee at purchase time. Hopefully this makes recycling it a low cost option.

      • If you pay X at purchase or if you pay X at recycle time you still pay the same amount! Just because you pay when you purchase the system does not make it "low cost"

        • If you pay X at purchase or if you pay X at recycle time you still pay the same amount!

          No, no, no... a dollar today is not the same as a dollar tomorrow, is not the same as a dollar yesterday.

          For example: Assuming an inflation rate of 3% per year, if I paid $10 today, an equivalent amount three years from now would be $10.93. But if I bought a computer today, and three years from now I paid $10, an equivalent amount today would be $9.15.

          So paying X amount today is more expensive than paying X amount at recycle time... Unless there is deflation (where the reverse would be true) or zero inflation (where your statement would be true), but that's not likely.

    • Here's the solution (Score:3, Informative)

      by MemeRot ( 80975 )
      It's worked in Germany. Don't impose the fee on the consumer. Impose the fee on the manufacturer. In Germany they started charging toy manufacturers for packaging on toys. Instantly the toy manufacturers just started putting the Barbies on the shelf, without the giant unnecessary box. Here California could charge the monitor manufacturers money for every one of their products that ends up in the municipal waste stream, and use that money to recycle the product. Charge a fee that's much higher than the cost of just recycling it themselves, and they create a financial incentive for the company to set up its own recycling program. The company may even give the consumers back a small 'deposit' fee to create an incentive for the customers to return the monitors, computers, whatever.

      Our industrial economy needs to become a closed cycle and this is the first step. Now that we know how to build monitors and computers, we need to figure out how to build them so that they're easy to take apart and modular enough that old components can just be re-used. Re-using the gallium and mercury and other raw materials is a first step, but really a lot of components can just be re-used. Do you really need a new component that's ten percent smaller? Or can you just use the old one? Now if you're talking 90% smaller then yes you may need the new component. But for many needs old parts can be recycled.
  • our old computers?

    I have a stack of them in the garage, just in case I need that 20 MB hard drive (they make great paperweights)
  • "state residents have stockpiled more than 6 million obsolete monitors and TV sets in their homes."

    Not obsolete! I've turned them into fishtanks ala "Scrap"! Bah! Old CD drive = cupholder Old boards can be recycled into clipboards and business card holders. The possibilities for the "junk" are endless.

  • voodoo economics (Score:3, Insightful)

    by markmoss ( 301064 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:03AM (#3069862)
    Environmental groups take a harsher view, saying that the high-tech industry hasn't done nearly enough and foists costs onto consumers that should be picked up by the manufacturers themselves. Consumers ultimately get the tab for manufacturers' costs...
  • by Styros ( 144779 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:05AM (#3069868)
    PEP National Directory of Computer Recycling Programs []

    You can go there to see what options you have on recycling computer parts in your area.

  • Safety deposit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Colosse ( 522266 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:05AM (#3069869) Homepage
    They could get a safety deposit on every part sold, thus inciting peoples to dispose of their computers in a proper way. Just like they do for consigned containers here. You pay an ammount and you get it back when you bring your computer to a proper recycling facilitie. They could have this money prosper during your years of usage and thus fund recycling companies without charging an extra tax.
  • I think this is a good thing, provided a couple of conditions are met:

    1. The recycling fee should be paid up-front, when purchasing a new computer/monitor/pda/etc. Then, when you go to dispose of said item, you should get at least a portion of that money back as an incentive to dispose of your item in a proper manner. Obviously the recylcing fees have to generate revenue to aid in the recycling effort, so a fee $10 per monitor (for example) of which $5 is returned to the consumer upon disposal might work.

    2. The up-front fee and returnable fee should vary depending on the size and weight of the item. If you pay $10 up-front for the monitor, you should pay something like $5 for a PDA or cell phone.
  • by storem ( 117912 )

    As of 1 July 2001, (Belgian) consumers pay a small contribution on all new electric and electronic products. This contribution goes towards covering the collection, treatment and recycling costs of these products at the end of its useful life. The end result: less pollution and waste.

    This system results out of a recent governmental decision and an agreement between the competent authorities, the importers and producers of electric and electronic goods.

    Premiums are calculated on the basis of the estimated costs of treatment and recycling. They must be clearly indicated next to the purchase price and on the product invoice. For my new Philips TV set (consumer price: +/- 1.115), I paid 10 for the recycling premium. (1 ~ $0.9)

    According to their website (Yes, they recuperated enough money to even create a website about it: []) a new PC would now have a 9 recupel tax.

  • The state of California has a bicamaral legislature.

    Considering the environmental impact of failing to recycle the glass in a beer bottle (minimal) which California already encourages with fees, and the impact of failing to recycle a computer (considerable) this only makes sense. Other things we ought to be fined for failing to recycle - Car Batteries,

    However, I think it is clear that regulation of the fashion in which computers are recycled, which, according to a recent article in the ny times [] (blood sample required) is not environmentally or humanistically sound, is probably more important than regulation trying to encourage people to turn used computers over. Of course, that wouldn't generate any revenue.

    On the other hand, given the attrocious working conditions under which consumer electronics are manufactured in the first place, complaining about the conditions under which they're recycled seems almost irrelevant.
  • GOOD []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:08AM (#3069885)
    I live in Belgium and we got a tax on every electronic item sold, this is called the Recupel Tax, this tax is used for recycling. The rate is different on each category of items, for example a mobile phone is about 0.5 but a computer is around 10. I personaly think this is a good idea.
    • Exactly, we have had the same tax in the Netherlands for a long time. For those who are wondering: It's included in the sales-price you see on the sticker, so you don't really even notice the E10 or so increase on a new washer, dryer, computer, coffeemaker, philishave, etc.
    • Well, well, well... "Europe" is it? A big place to be that generic about! :)

      I was reading in my newspaper last week that the UK, and Scotland in particular are the worst for recycling in the world... I'd try and find a reference, but i've binned the paper (landfill I bet). Even worse than the US, which really amazed me.

      We're (i'm Scottish) are actually going backward - when I was 'wee' you could get a deposit back on glass bottles. The recycle facilities at the local supermarket were actually REMOVED last year (and Edinburgh tries to say it's 'Cosmopolitan'!). The year before that the council were saving money by just landfilling the 'to-be-recycled' items...

      It's a wonderful place!
  • They'll have a tough time collecting this tax on mail orders made from out-of-state retailers.

    Right now, of course, those mail-ordering from out-of-state retailers are supposed to remit the sales tax by filing all the paperwork and sending a check to the state. But individuals rarely (if ever?) do this. Many businesses (who are supposed to be doing this on any expense) don't do this either, though they get caught at it fairly often by state income tax audits.

    California actually is pretty good at finding out-of-state car buys and collecting tax on them, but the paperwork involved with registering a car makes sure these get put in the system. Are we gonna have to register our CRT's with the DMV?

  • I read the article (surprise!) and I see the part where they want to add more sales tax, and I see the part where they are requiring manufacturers to set up a program to recycle the monitors as hazardous waste, but nowhere in there do I see where the money's going. Honestly, this smells like bullshit/another way to add "anonymous" dollars to the state budget with no oversight as to how the money's being spent.

    If they simply told the manufacturers to set up a program or get nailed with a massive fine, you could bet your sweet ass the consumer would be paying for it in the end. In fact, what I see happening is a new tax put into place, the money from the tax funneled into pork projects, the manufacturers setting up the program without funding from the state, and the consumer getting stuck with the bill for the set-up programs, thus increasing sales tax. So....strike up two knocks of taxes, a new bureaucratic process, and a a couple politicians who can now claim to be pro-environment while doing nothing but padding the state budget.
  • I work as a computer technician for a small private college, and I know exactly what this article is talking about. As the title of this post says, we are drowning in a see of dead equipment that we can't get rid of, and we only have 1,000 students! I'm scared to see the problem at a large university.

    Being that we are located in a small town, there is literally no place to take the 14" and 15" monitors, motherboards, cases, etc., that are quickly piling up. We are running out of storage space for all of the broken and useless junk that has no place to go. So far, it seems our only option is to pay to have HP [] to take it. How we are going to get all of this crap to them is a whole other problem, however.

    I, for one, would happily pay an extra fee per computer bought if the state, or a company designated by the state, would take the old equipment for free when it dies. My fear however, is that we'll be charged this extra amount on the purchase price and then have to pay again for someone to take the machine. That would be even worse than it is now. If this is done right, it could be a great program.

    If its done right...

  • by neo ( 4625 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:12AM (#3069901)
    When I have a computer I don't want anymore, I leave it on the sidewalk with a sign that says "FREE".

    It's always gone within 24 hours. I can only assume that some techno-geek takes them and uses them for spare parts.

    I did the same thing to my comic book collection.
    • When I have a computer I don't want anymore, I leave it on the sidewalk with a sign that says "FREE".
      Yeah, I do the same thing with all the crap I don't want anymore. Old car batteries, used oil, broken refrigerators. Out of sight, out of mind...
    • Heck, how many people here NEVER get rid of a computer? Okay, well, maybe not never, but not for a very long time! Even the computers I got through get passed on to my family. I still have my old 386 in a closet here somewhere. No, I'll probably end up using the mother board as art for my wall, but it hasn't been tossed in the trash yet.

      Sooo... why would I be paying a recycling tax? Oh yeah! It's so the government can take my money about 5-10 years before they actually use it! This is worse than the notion of social security in the US!!

      I mean the government bitches if you owe money to them in taxes. And if you don't have taxes deducted from your checks, they get really pissed if you don't file taxes quarterly. Whine whine whine that they don't have their money immediately. And yet, they expect me to give them my money for use in 5-10 years! Screw that! Bastards!

      Yes, I live in California. This is BS! The I'm all for recycling (although I don't do it ALL the time), but the friggen recycle hippies have gone TOO far. This sounds a lot more like political abuse and ignorance to me.

  • by conner_bw ( 120497 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:13AM (#3069910) Journal
    In tough economic times such as these, this will only scare away consumers from buying new computers and making them sensitive to issues that are against consumerism.

    We need to tell people their 800 Mhz is a worthless piece of junk and that they SHOULD upgrade to one that will make their word processor .00001 percent faster. We need to tell people to throw away ugly things and replace them with slicker things with LCD's, Gameboy? No way buddy, PDA's!!!

    This tax will make everyone into a tree hugger, finally making people realize that their instant pornography boxes are ruining the world. We need MORE garbage, more pollution, more waste... if not then terrorism has won.

    No wait... Tax them all.
  • by Kefaa ( 76147 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:14AM (#3069914)
    Most of us work with this hardware every day, and are well aware it is toxic in many forms. Unlike televisions (which should also be included), people tend to have at least one computer or more per person. (I have three in my house, ten+ if you include machines I have upgraded from)

    Adding, $5, $10, or even $20 to a system is not going to kill us. However, I would want it to be used directly for the recycling of the machines and everyone (business and individual) alike must pay at point of purchase. The fact that a company buys 1000+ boxes, is no reason for a discount on recycling. By putting it at point of purchase, we can still donate boxes, etc. without having to worry about the charity paying the fee.

    In addition, we should be able to put the stuff at the curb with the other recyclables. Who would spend $100 shipping back a PIII three years from now? It would end up hidden in the dumpster.

    Finally, my favorite statement was:
    "the high-tech industry hasn't done nearly enough and foists costs onto consumers that should be picked up by the manufacturers themselves" There are no zero return business costs anymore. NONE, ZERO, zilch, /dev/null. Everything gets passed to the consumer because, well... we consume.
    • In addition, we should be able to put the stuff at the curb with the other recyclables.

      Nice idea, but the curbside recyclers are the ones who will take plastic milk jugs, but not plastic milk jug caps. Can you see them trying to figure out what to do with a PC?
  • i'm sure lots of people will complain about gov't regulation, but it's about time they did something. it's obvious that the private sector has utterly failed to come up with solutions for this problem.

    i find it amusing that while many people will point to gov't waste, they just accept failures in private industry as part of the process. obviously on that playing field (gov't only works if it makes no mistakes, private industry is supposed to make mistakes) then of *course* private industry is better...
  • Donate! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CrazyBrett ( 233858 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:16AM (#3069924)
    Obviously this doesn't work if the hardware is broken, but if it's just "old", donate it to local schools! There are still plenty of public schools with drastically underfunded computer budgets, and they could definitely use whatever they can get. Hey, if you were feeling extra generous, you could even pre-install linux for them!
    • They don't want your junk anymore than you do. A local thrift shop is a much better place, they can sell it for a couple dollars to people that actually want it.
    • Do you really think schools want a 486 computer today? Much less even a 100Mhz Pentium?

      How much time and effort would they have to waste configuring such a system?

      If the computer is more than 2-3 years old, please don't waste a schools time by donating it unless you intend to donate the time involved to make it work for them.
    • Hey, if you were feeling extra generous, you could even pre-install linux for them!

      Yes, and then have them think it's a useless piece of junk when nobody in the entire school knows how to use the thing and they can't install any of their programs on it!

      Or are you going to donate your time to teach the "computer tech" (I use that term loosely. The tech at my old high school turned out to be a totally clueless ART MAJOR) how to use everything? And even if the tech can use it, how much will it help the children? How will knowing how to do things on a Linux desktop help them in the real world where 99% of the computers they encounter will be running Windows?

      LINUX IS NOT THE ANSWER TO EVERYTHING. In this situation, a PC with windows loaded would be FAR more useful.

      -- Dr. Eldarion --
  • In fact, it should be per part, not for a whole unit. I tend to buy and build my own. Yes, there are some organizations who want older systems but the new applications will not run on these and then the charities are hosed. As a consumer, I need to be responsible for what I do with my trash. There should be a fee added at the point of purchase and when the part is recycled, you get the fee (or part of) it back. Want to donate to an organization? Go head, if they can't use it then they can recycle and get the money.

    I don't buy the arguement that the fee will stop people from buyine new stuff. It hasn't stopped people from getting new tires (recycle fee), an oil change (environmental fee), and drinking beer or soda ($0.05 or more back!!!).

    I try to dispose of my electronics responsibly but there are too many people who just toss things in the trash. You HAVE to hit people where they will pay attention - in the pocket.
  • Over here we already have to pay an indirect removal fee for a computer.
    Unlike other electronic equipment, where the price is a set fee which you are charged in the shop on top of your purchase (think in the area between 5 and 40 euro, a lot like the amount proposed in the .CA bill), the producer/importer of computer equipment pays these fees, as he is charged for the number of systems sold.
    This also encourages the producer of the systems to try to keep the recycling costs low.

    While it may hurt a little bit in the wallet it can not be denied that the systems do have an environmental impact when they are disposed of.

    It does not really leave much room for geeks like me who still have their first computers 'somewhere around', but I have no objections to a system like we have it here.
    • In The Netherlands, the removal fee first applied for cars starting from january 1st 1995; with the money they have created a very efficient recycling system, about 90% of a car is being recycled. This was considered as a big success and since january 1st 1999, dutch citizens have to pay the removal fee for consumer electronics as well. The system is a little bit different, because in this case, the producer/importer has to take care of the recycling theirselves: all used goods will be returned to them through communal services and stores. So it's not like they pay a fee and get rid of the recycling problem of their products. You're right when you say they will think twice about how recyclable their products will be. On the other hand, it enables the problems discussed here [] previously. Producers can say they have a brand new recycling facility in Thailand, while it's just a field of grass intended to research the biodegradability of fridges! Once again, I think it's our own responsibility to reduce the size of the impact our junk has on the environment! That can be better obtained through a government-based recycling project funded through the removal fees, like the car-system in The Netherlands. Just let the producers pay, give the authorities responsibility.
  • "Taxes are never levied for the benefit of the taxed."

    There are a hundred ways you could skim off the top of a program like this; this isn't even something that necessarily needs to happen. Computers can be reused almost indefinitely. Why don't we have a tax on televisions, Saturn automobiles, and everything else with reusable plastic (which means too expensive for recycling to pay for itself) stuff as well?

    The sort of reminds me of the old tax that Feudal Lords used to put on their fiefs when the came for dinner - the "tooth wear and tear" tax, which taxed based upon the fact that the dinner caused the teeth to wear down to some degree.
  • With way too many consumer goods, but especially electronics, current production methods make it cheaper to build new ones instead of repairing or upgrading old ones. Is there any really good reason why Monitors or circut boards, and other electronics cannot be designed with the intent of being able to cheaply repair it? Why not prepare an assembly line to dissassemble a finished but damaged object, and have its components either recycled or reused. And design each object with a 'diagnostic' port which can be used to figure out which part of the object is broken.

    If it could be done cost effectively and profitably, the other benefits would be an added incentive.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @10:46AM (#3070066) Homepage Journal
    While I am in favor of the prinicpal of this, I fear the side-effects of the monetary flow to finance it. There is a class of people that is adept at finding flowing money, and inserting themselves into the stream. Today one example is health management costs - I've heard that 1/4 to 1/3 of our health costs are spent on 'management' as opposed to medicine.

    With widespread mandated fee-based recycling for computing components, I fully expect to see the leeches emerge. But at least some good should come of it.
  • I think we're at a point where this is not only a good idea, but that it can be done in a way that does not have an adverse economic effects. Ten years ago computers were being added at exponentially increasing rates. Charging a recycling fee would have slowed the adoption of computers. Now we are closer to a steady state; new computer tend to replace older ones. Charging a recycling fee that would be mostly or entirely refunded when the equipment is returned would, once phased in, have little or no net effect on computer budgets.

    Of course, there is the cost of actually doing the recycling to be considered. However, it is important to note that the cost of disposal is not zero, it's just not absorbed in a market in which people get to voluntarily play (e.g. some poor shmoe is forced live with contamination because his neighbor is running an underground disposal operation).

    So if, to be fair, we should charge users of computers the cost of recycling. How we doe this doesn't matter much : charging the manufacturers is no different from charging the consumer or vice versa. Would it be very expensive? I don't think so, provided we charged everybody. The greatest costs of proper recycling are investments in the technology to do it properly. If done on a wide scale, the unit cost of recycling will fall dramatically.

    Also, the environmental coss of recycling will fall dramatically as the scale increases. Scale has a funny effect on environmental impact. Pop quiz: if you have a choice of three garments, cotton, wool and polyester fleece, which is the most environmentally friendly? The answer is polyester, even though it is made from petrochemicals. It can be produced from ground up bottles, is easy to dye with nontoxic dyes; at some point in the future given enough polyester usage in garments, it will be possible to recycle old garments into virgin quality fabric. Cotton, on the other hand, has a tremendous environmental impact due to irrigation and related problems like soil salination. The destruction of the Aral sea, possibly the most spectactual environmental disaster of the twentieth century, was due to cotton production. Wool has the direct impact on the environment due to sheep flocks, the toxic sheep dip used to keep the animals pest free, and has an indirect cost in that it is hard to dye in colors preferred by consumers without using and releasing toxic materials.

    Scale affects the best choice to make environmentally. On a small scale (say producing thousands of garments), producing polyester would be by far the worst choice, and cotton and wool the best. On the large scale needed to clothe humanity (producing billions of garments), polyester is the best choice, wool is a bad choice and cotton a terrible choice.

    The same principle of scale dependent impact will affect computer recycling. The mom and pop operations in China are environmentally horrible -- a proper land fill would be a better choice. However, when we are talking about a system that would be capable of recycling all electronics, then you would have a system which is much more environmentally benign than disposal, even if you don't count the reduced impact by making less extraction necessary.

    So, I'm very positive about this in principle, although it would be better if (1) users were refunded enough of their fee to incent them to return the equipment for proper processing and (2) it were national in scope. Such a system would have little long term impact on computer purchasing decisions and actually improve the financial and environmental efficiency of recycling operations
  • It ain't cheap to ship all those old PCs to Asia [], ya know.
  • Like most of the geeks I know, I don't throw stuff away. I give to others, I donate it, I put in my office museum...

    The /. introduction from Jeff is a little misleading - Byron Sher's bill is for CRTs, Gloria Romero's is for everything.

    I seriously wonder if Sher really knows what he's talking about - a CRT is not a pop bottle and has a much longer life. My Macintosh (Model M0001) still can attest to the life of a CRT. Collecting fees on the consumer level is utterly silly and isn't going to make me want to move to Cali any time soon.

    Romero's plan might have some feasibility in that the emphasis would be placed on the company to come up with a reclaimation program, not placing fees on the consumers. I personally think that, in the long run, it would be cheaper for a company to take back the old machines. They can reclaim the gold from the boards, etc., and if they use proper plastic they could recycle to cases.

    Now, I'm not a fan of Dell (politcally or in terms of OS choice), but I'm throughly impressed by the fact that whe Dell receives an off-lease machine back they clean it up and sell it on eBay for a decent price. I consider that a first step in the direction Romero and Sher are headed. I just think Sher could have talked with some folks in the real world before drafting his bill.

  • begin rant- I went to California once on a vacation trip. I found thay had way too many fees for stupid things. Just to connect to a propane tank for filling is a $5 fee regardless of the size of the tank. I took a small 1 gallon tank for use with a lantern and stove. It cost about 1.20 to fill in Oregon (price of the propane at the time. It cost 6.10 to fill the same tank in California. I usualy travel with an empty tank for safety and fill near my destination. I don't do that on trips south anymore. I learned my lesson. Why would PC disposal be any diffrent? I expect to see them littering the roadside when they do that as people will just let them fall off the truck someplace instead of paying another fee. /rant I know -1 troll -1 offtopic. However I think a fee like this may trigger illegal dumping of stuff. Goodwill will no longer take it. They can't pay to get rid of it for you.
  • Its not just computers. I would think that by now there are so many discarded AOL disks that entire subdivisions could be built on landfills full of them.
  • I am trying to get my mind around just what 'recycling' computers would entail ... I mean other than the occasional reuse that I find for random parts from various and assorted closets and shelves around the house.

    I guess that I will just take it as a given that there is an actual need and a viable plan for this computer 'recycling'. I would want to know if the government will actually spend it on what they claim it is needed for. If it is for the 'starwars project (I mean missile defense system)' or some other half concocted pipe dream, I would be rather upset.
  • by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:11AM (#3070206) Journal
    It looks like two US senators are introducing bills that would impose recycling fees on new computer systems sold.
    The two senators, Byron Sher [] and Gloria Romero [], are California State Senators, not U.S. Senators. Huge difference.

    That's OK; most Californians I know can't name the two U.S. Senators they elected (Barbara Boxer [] and Dianne Feinstein [])

    • That's OK; most Californians I know can't name the two U.S. Senators they elected (Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein)

      Can't? Or won't admit that our state as a whole would elect these two idiots. I am ashamed that they represent the great State of California.
  • This is another bogus tax being considered. We already have enough taxes. The road to failure (and communism) is paved with good intentions. We're incrementally adding more and more taxes. They're always sugar-coated but it's just another tax.

    Additionally, it assumes that the computer wil someday be recycled. Perhaps when it no longer serves me I'll part it out. Or perhaps I'll upgrade it and not need to throw it out. Or perhaps it'll run on a Linux box and never have to be upgraded because it gets the job done.

    How do I get a refund if I never trash/recycle my machine?

    More left-wing tax-and-spend envrionmental-based psycho-babble. Taxes must be resisted in all its forms. If they want money to do this, take it out of one of the useless programs they already spend my tax dollars on.

  • Maybe we could collect up all this junk equipment and make a series of Junkyard Wars (aka Scrapheap Challenge here in the UK) for those of us who don't feel confident in our welding or engine maintenance skills? I can see it now...

    "You have ten hours from when the ball reaches the bottom of the Scrapheap clock to bulid... a working firewall!"

    "W00t! I found a dual processor mobo!"

    "Excellent! DDR Memory!"

    "I know we wanted a 10Gb hdd, but all I could find is these 200Mb paperweights."

    "Jackpot! Linux distro!"

  • This is in California, right? What's to stop people from using the 'recycling' tax to just ship it to China where it can rot in the open?
  • I find it highly ironic that they're going to charge you to "recycle" your computer...which could possibly mean sending it to Asia to be taken apart, selling some of the parts and thrown onto riverbanks. What's even funnier is that this report about e-trash [] was posted on CNN yesterday.

    Doing a search on Google for "recycling computers" [] takes a person to a lot of "we'll take your old computer and shuffle it off to little kids at 4-H for reuse". Nothing about actual recycling in the sense of "What happens when the computer can no longer be used and needs to be thrown away?" I shudder to think about the cathode tubes exploding in garbage dumps.
  • Pay to dump it in Native American land? Unlicenced toxic waste disposal is big money maker for them - almost as big as casinos.
  • by penguin_dance ( 536599 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @11:44AM (#3070452)
    We have a tire tax supposedly to pay for the recycling of tires (although why do I keep seeing stories about automotive places dumping tires?)

    One of these bills doesn't seem to do anything about the problem; it just wants to set up yet another tax. Does that mean, okay we've collected the tax, now you can throw your old computer in the dumpster?

    I would much rather see something closer to the second bill: an active recycling program that encourages computer makers to get older computers to schools and others non-profits so as little as possible ends up on the dump. I would rather see a reward system set up rather than a punitive one, however. Any costs penalizing these companies will simply be passed on to us.
  • In Europe... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @12:12PM (#3070642)
    Although I don't know for sure I've heard that in some places in Europe a company is responsible for paying for the recycling of the packaging from their products (i.e. McDonalds held responsible for the piles of styrofoam boxes and cups on the sides of the highway).
  • If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by yardgnome ( 190624 ) on Tuesday February 26, 2002 @01:29PM (#3071188) Homepage
    If only this fee would actually make it recycling PCs accesible. I just moved to CA, and I had a monitor that crapped out on me a month or so after the move. I went to a few local computer shops looking for deals on a new monitor, and while I was there I asked all the tech guys where I could recycle the old monitor.

    No one had any clue.

    I spent a several afternoons trying to find an environmentally-friendly way to get rid of the damn burnt out monitor, but without any luck. Eventually I was forced to just put it out on the curb for the garbage men to pick up.

    So I was determined to recycle my old monitor, but still failed in the state of CA. You think people who don't care in the first place will do anything other than just chuck the thing in the trash? If there's a purchase-recycling fee, then they sure as hell need a very robust system to actually do the recycling. And the most important part of such a system would be advertising to let people know the service is available and how to use it. Because otherwise there will be people like me who have the best intentions, but don't know where to take the hardware.
  • Ah, recycling. What a noble concept. I wonder when (if ever) we're going to start doing it?

    "Recycled" US computers typically end up as Chinese landfill [].

    At a local level, my local civic amenities centre has finally started taking sorted refuse... but when pressed (again and again and again) they finally admitted that - with the exception of lead-acid batteries - it all goes to landfill. Glass, card, paper, everything. They can't give it away, not even to burn as fuel. The sorting is just to build up a reliable supply in case someone can be persuaded to recycle some of it in the future. YMMV, and I truly hope that it does.

    My point (now that I'm finally getting to it) is that recycling is a feel-good crock. Unless you actually know for a fact that the components you hand over are going to find their way back into the manufacturing chain - and without being stripped out by unprotected third world labor - then the best thing you can do with old equipment is re-use it. A Pentium-anything with at least 16Mb of RAM will never be obsolete, because you can use it as a DSL router. You don't even need a monitor, if you use an OS that supports a serial console. In fact, you don't want to use a "modern" system, because they just turn more electricity into heat, for exactly zero extra useful work.

    If you absolutely can't find a use for it, then sure, give it to schools or colleges (and if they won't take it even to pass on to students, ask them why not). Sell it for chump change in your local paper. Give it away in your local paper, or at yard sales. The one thing I wouldn't recommend is the (semi fatuous) method of leaving it lying around with a "free" sign on it. Yes, you'll probably be rid of it, but the taker will most likely toss it in a dumpster once they find out nobody wants to buy old hardware.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.