Minnesota county recycles computers

Illegal dumping along roads and highways has long been an environmental problem.

Officials in Hennepin County, Minn., are taking steps to ensure that cast-off PCs and printers don't add to the unsightly piles of old tires and trash along the state's roadways. An old CRT languishing in a dump isn't just ugly, it's toxic: It can contain as much as six pounds of lead.

Mike Brandt, conservation division manager with the county's Environmental Services Department, has run an electronics recycling program since 1992. 'We accept all residential electronic equipment,' he said, such as computers, televisions, printers, cell phones and answering machines.

The program has expanded by 30 percent each year, Brandt said. In 1992, the county recycled 3 tons of electronic waste. Last year, the county took in 1,000 tons of electronic waste.

Brandt and his team disassemble the computers and other equipment to harvest components that can be recycled. 'You get down to a lot of metal and straight pieces of tin and steel,' Brandt said.

Circuit boards contain small amounts of precious metals that Brandt salvages. 'We sell the pieces of copper and any other precious metals to scrap metal dealers. We get a little revenue from this, a few pennies per pound of scrap.' Unfortunately, the revenues from the scrap metal do little to offset the cost of the program, Brandt said.

Sometimes people sneak materials into the recycling program that come from a business, not from a residence. 'We usually take it anyway,' he said.

Most of the equipment that turns up is too dilapidated to be refurbished, Brandt said. 'So seldom do people bring in usable stuff, it isn't worth talking about,' he said. Once in a while Brandt finds a 286 PC that works.

'We have a few reuse shelves. If somebody brings in a working PC, it gets snatched up right away,' he said. 'But we still see Apple 2Cs, 8088s. Those go straight to recycling.'

The program costs the county $800,000 a year, Brandt said. 'But it's definitely worth it, to get that material out of the waste stream.'

Brandt would like to see more counties develop an electronics recycling program. 'The biggest obstacle is the cost of a program like this,' he said. 'If we could get more people to start doing this, the process will become less expensive.'

'Trudy Walsh


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