Electronic recycling/product stewardship

Mary Ellen Lea
Solid Waste Collection Superintendent
City of Columbia, Missouri
Member, APWA Solid Waste Management Committee

How do I properly dispose of or recycle my broken computer monitor????

As your community Public Works Director/Official, are you ready to answer this question? Some of us are able to answer this question; however, most of us are not. We need to know where to properly dispose of or recycle electronic waste materials. Your APWA Solid Waste Management Committee is providing an educational session at the 2003 National Congress in San Diego to provide this information.

Electronic equipment waste is called e-waste and is the fastest growing waste stream. According to the October 2002 Waste Age magazine, approximately 20 million computers became obsolete in 1998 with a volume of 5 to 7 million tons. These items contain recyclable materials such as silver, gold, steel, copper, aluminum and wire cable. They also contain toxic metals such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury, among others. These items contribute approximately 70 percent of the heavy metals (mercury and cadmium) in landfills and 40 percent of the lead.

Closely related to the e-waste disposal problem is the “product stewardship” issue. How responsible should the manufacturer be held for obsolete items? How should the government deal with this issue? This information will also be presented at the educational session in San Diego.

Many manufacturers of future e-waste have established recycling programs; many more businesses are starting and offering that much-needed recycling outlet. Some government agencies are tackling the collection and funding issues. Broward County, Florida has successfully tackled this issue and their case study will be presented at the Congress in San Diego. As public works leaders, we need to know about the newest solid waste disposal issue, “e-waste disposal.”

Mary Ellen Lea can be reached at (573) 874-6280 or at MELEA@GoColumbiaMO.com.