Electronics Recycling Potentially Big Business in Georgia

Summary: Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Council recommends ways to create jobs, improve information security, and increase environmental protection in Georgia

ATLANTA (June 30, 2005) – What happens when 5 million computers and 8 million televisions in Georgia have outlived their usefulness? This was the challenge facing the Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Council, a group whose three-year service to the state produced recommendations they believe will lead to more jobs, improved information security, and stronger environmental protection.

As personal computers, monitors and television sets are replaced by faster machines and newer technologies, the problem of getting rid of older models – known as “e-scrap” – will continue to grow. The e-scrap currently in Georgia homes and businesses eventually will become 334,800 tons of waste, much of it hazardous. Nearly 12.5 million picture tubes in computer monitors and televisions around the state, for example, contain about 31,000 tons of lead, known to be a highly toxic hazardous waste.

Counties and municipalities, facing severe budget shortfalls, cannot afford to build facilities to collect, store and process unwanted e-scrap. But a study commissioned by the Council and conducted by Georgia Tech shows that creating a statewide network of e-scrap collection centers accessible to all Georgians will be economically viable, with potential annual profits exceeding $6 million. The report states, “There is an excellent economic development opportunity in the state for e-scrap collection and processing to be handled by the private sector. By facilitating the development of e-scrap collection and processing, the state has the opportunity to increase jobs, tax revenues, capture the value of a resource that currently is often exported or landfilled, and avoid a potential environmental concern.”

Most e-scrap has financial value that can be recovered through a variety of methods. Older models can be refurbished with new components such as increased computer memory and can be re-sold. Some individual components, including motherboards, drives and power supplies, can be removed and sold. After everything of value has been removed, the e-scrap can be shredded into small pieces that consist of precious metals (gold and silver), base metals (steel, copper and aluminum), at least a dozen types of plastics, and glass. Recent advances in sorting technology allow a recycler to cleanly separate these materials, which then can be sold to processors who smelt the metals, re-pelletize the plastics, or melt the glass for use as raw materials in manufacturing new products.

As part of its recommendations, the Council suggests that the state improve the infrastructure supporting electronics recycling in Georgia. It believes this will attract new companies to the state, encourage the expansion of existing companies, promote job training, and ultimately increase state and local tax revenues.

Education is a key component of the Council’s strategy, since recent surveys indicate a widespread lack of knowledge about the recycling of computer equipment and other electronics. Educating the general public and business owners about proper management and recycling options is critical to the success of any recycling efforts.

The Council also addressed information security, especially as it relates to confidential personal and medical information stored in state and university system computers. Early this summer, a new policy will take effect for all state agencies that specifies procedures for destroying confidential information before a computer can be surplused.

The Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Council was created in 2002 by House Bill 2 to review problems related to the growing quantity of used electronics accumulating in homes, businesses, government offices and schools throughout the state. The Council was assigned to the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division (P²AD) of the Department of Natural Resources for technical support. Since 1993, P²AD has provided free, confidential environmental technical assistance in the areas of pollution prevention, resource conservation, waste reduction, by-product reuse and recycling. For more information about P²AD or for a copy of the Council’s report, visit www.p2ad.org.