Reducing the fare for a trip to the digital scrapheapby Martin Moylan, Minnesota Public Radio
Thousands of people showed up today at Best Buy's Richfield headquarters to rid themselves of unwanted TVs, computers and other electronics. Best Buy accepted most items free of charge. But Minnesotans can probably look forward to a day in the near future when disposing of electronic waste is free--every day.
St. Paul, Minn. — By 3:30 Friday afternoon Best Buy had collected about 200,000 pounds of TVs, computer monitors, printers, scanners, fax machines and other electronic trash. Nearly 1,500 cars, vans and trucks had streamed into Best Buy's corporate parking lot. Some were packed with a dozen or more computers, TVs or computer monitors.
Carol Smith dropped by to recycle a TV and computer monitor for just $10 each.
"Probably for three or four years I've been watching for this to happen again," she says. "I like to come where it's massive and I can bring everything at one time and not have to worry about what I can take and what I can't take."
And Smith likes the prices.
"Compared to what I have to pay in my own area to recycle they're about half," Smith says.
Since last year, it's been illegal in Minnesota to throw TVs and computer monitors in the trash. The cathode-ray-tube devices generally contain five to eight pounds of lead.
So, many communities or private recycling firms charge up to $30 or $40 to recycle a TV or monitor. But those fees may go the way of the floppy disk.
Starting July 1, the state starts to implement a law that'll make electronics manufacturers responsible for recycling unwanted electronics. And companies will have to meet escalating targets for recycling their products.
It's expected manufacturers will respond by including the cost of recycling in the price of their products. And manufacturers--or their agents--will then likely accept electronic trash for little or no charge so that they can meet their recycling targets.
"The manufacturers will want those products," says Art Dunn, director of strategic planning for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
"I would not be surprised if next year for many of the programs out there, it'll cost nothing for the consumer," says Dunn. State officials say they don't know how much electronic waste Minnesotans harbor. But they say they've recycled as much as 10 million pounds in past years.
Manufacturers will have to register with the state and report their sales of TVs, computer monitors and laptop computers. As the program unfolds, Dunn says manufacturers will then have to hit progressively greater annual targets for recycling electronic waste, based on their annual sales of TVs, computer monitors and laptops.
"The law obligates them to make sure that 60 percent of the weight of the products that are sold in the state are recycled," says Dunn.
That's for starters. The target later rises to 80 percent.
Any manufacturer that falls short of its recycling target, will have pay a penalty of up to 50 cents a pound. So, if a manufacturer is short 500,000 pounds, the company would have to pay a $250,000 penalty.
Manufacturers will have a lot of flexibility in meeting recycling targets, though. A company will get credit for recycling equipment made by competitors. And Dunn says everything from keyboards to DVD players can count toward recycling targets.
"They'll take keyboards and mice and printers and fax machines and DVD players," says Dunn. "So, most of the electronic scrap people end up getting rid of will count towards the manufacturers meeting their obligation."
Lawmakers enacted the recycling program to address illegal dumping of TVs and computer monitors. Some people now just dump TVs and monitors wherever they can, refusing to pay recycling fees.
Many of the local recycling programs charge $30 to $40 to get rid of some of these television sets. And people have decided to dispose of them illegally.
Several manufacturers, including Apple and Toshiba, have programs in place to recycle their products. But the programs' costs and convenience vary greatly.
Best Buy spokeswoman Paula Prahl says the new recycling law is a good idea.
"We believe that manufacturers, like Best Buy, need to be responsible for electronic waste because it is the surest way we will find the most cost-effective solution, as well as providing an incentive for manufacturers to design 'green' in the first place," Prahl says.
Anything collected at this Best Buy recycling event won't count toward 2007 recycling goals. But Prahl says there's a good chance future Best Buy events will help manufacturers hit those goals.
That would please Rick Dressler of Robbinsdale. Dressler brought a trailer-load of computers and their innards to the Best Buy recycling event Friday.
"I've had quite a bit of electronic items in my garage just taking up space," said Dressler. "And it's really nice to have a place like this to get rid of it, especially for free. It would cost me a lot more if I had to give it to my garbage hauler.
Dressler had been hanging on to some of those electronics so long he says they're "fairly ancient."
The Best Buy recycling collection continues Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Best Buy's Richfield headquarters, near the intersection of Penn Ave. and I-494.
- All Things Considered, 06/22/2007, 5:50 p.m.