Recycle e-waste to protect water supply

Rapid technology growth has spawned a whole new sub-industry in California: e-waste recycling. According to the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board, California is more vulnerable to the toxins contained in electronic waste – including mercury and lead – seeping into the groundwater supply than any other state because of the way California preserves water.

California already has some of the toughest laws in the nation regarding what can and cannot be placed in landfills. In July of 2005, it became illegal to dispose of computers and cell phones in landfills; the law also required that cell phone retailers collect old cell phones for free. In February of this year a second, similar law was enacted banning the disposal of batteries in landfills. Both laws aim to stem the flow of hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and other heavy metals into area landfills.

According to the California’s Department of Toxic Substances (CDTS), a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency, while all heavy metals are an issue, their biggest concerns are items containing lead and liquid mercury.

Mercury, normally contained within small glass tubes that can break when items containing it are disposed of, releases fumes that are toxic if inhaled. Mercury can also make its way into the state’s rivers and even the ocean, where it can contaminate fish and move up the food chain.

Short-term exposure to mercury can lead to damage of the renal and nervous systems, lungs, skin and eyes, while lead poisoning causes nerve system damage and mental retardation in children. An average, non-flat screen computer monitor contains four pounds of lead.

Many of the items no longer allowed in landfills include those regularly used in homes on a daily basis, including common batteries (AA, AAA, C and D cells, as well as button batteries used in watches and hearing aids) which contain cadmium and corrosive chemicals; electronic devices including cellular and landline phones, radios, microwaves, computer hard drives, printers, TV and computer monitors and VCRs, all of which contain heavy metals including lead, cadmium, copper and chromium; and mercury-containing items including fluorescent tubes and bulbs, thermostats, thermometers, musical greeting cards, athletic shoes with flashing lights manufactured prior to 1997 and pilot-light sensors.

CDTS had hoped that public education campaigns would help to make the newest recycling efforts as second nature to Californian’s as separating and recycling bottles and cans, and that has seemed to pay off so far. One of the state’s largest e-waste recycling firms, Electronic Recyclers located in Fresno, reported that more than five million pounds of old electronic equipment was collected from all over the state just in the month of August.

Because the state lacks the manpower and resources to actively enforce the measure, compliance with these laws are mostly voluntary for residential customers, although large-scale dumping of the now-banned items by businesses and waste disposal companies will be investigated, with penalties set as high as $25,000 per day for each violation.

E-waste is transformed by electronic recyclers into valuable plastics, metals and glass, commodities that are often sold back to computer manufacturers for use in future computers, and the industry’s growth potential is enormous, considering that on average only two million of the 100 million cell phones sold per year are recycled.

The best plan for Canyon Lakers wondering what to do with those dead batteries from the TV remote, or any of the other banned items, is simply to separate and save them for household hazardous waste collection events in the area, one of which is planned for tomorrow, September 23.

Residents can drop off old computers, monitors, TVs, printers, copiers, fax machines, servers, DVD players, cell phones and any other office or consumer electronics between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at CompUSA in Murrieta, located at 25125 Madison Avenue.

In addition, a collection is held the first Saturday of each month, with the exception of January and December, at the City of Lake Elsinore Corporation Yard from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

As a reminder to residents, items already deemed household hazardous waste that cannot be disposed of in the trash or recycling bins include deodorizers, cleaners, bleach, floor wax, spot remover, drain cleaner, furniture polish, aerosol cans, latex and oil-based paints, weed killer, fertilizer, anti-freeze, pesticides, pool chlorine, automotive batteries, garden chemicals, motor oil, used oil filters, sharps/needles and barbeque tanks.

Residents with questions concerning e-waste or household hazardous waste are encouraged to contact the city’s contracted waste hauler, CR&R, at 943-1991.

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