Does not compute: Texas improves e-waste elimination

Photo illustration by Jed Dean | Photo Editor

By Leigh Ann Henry

Texas has doubled its amount of electronic waste recycling since 2009 by recycling more than 24 million pounds of e-waste in 2010, according to Texas Campaign for the Environment’s 2010 e-waste Recycling reports.

“Texas Campaign for the Environment is a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens campaign,” said Stacy Guidry, Austin program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment.

The program was created about 20 years ago and has been considered the expert in electronic recycling since 2001.

According to a report, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 3,190,000 tons of consumer electronics entered the waste stream in the U.S.; of this, only 600,000 tons were recycled.

Guidry said it is estimated that there are more than 99 million items considered to be e-waste are stored in homes and garages around Texas because people don’t know what to do with them. E-waste is defined as anything that has a cord or battery such as computers or cell phones.

Dell has formed a successful partnership with Goodwill Industries International Inc. which hosts rehabilitation programs for people who are out of work. These programs teach participants how to refurbish or break down computers for recycling.

The Texas Computer Takeback Law, implemented in 2007, holds manufacturers responsible for the whole life of their computers, which requires companies to take back their products once consumers are don, and recycle them properly.

Problems are found because many companies do not honor or advertise the takeback law and it’s hard to police; methods are being pursued to try and change that.

Guidry said in the 2010 totals, four companies spearheaded the recycling records: Dell, Samsung, Sony and Altex.

“These four companies recycled 92 percent of the 24 million pounds last year. Even Altex, it’s a small company out of San Antonio, and they blew some of the larger corporations, like Apple, out of the water,” Guidry said. “And Dell was responsible for 85 percent of that.”

In Texas for 2009, recycled e-waste total per capita was at .5 pounds per person and in 2010 it jumped to .97 pounds per person.

This is a noteable increase, but in states such as Oregon, the per capita recycling amount stands at 6.35 pounds per person, which shows that Texas has much room for increasing recycling amounts. Texas Campaign for the Environment is currently working to bring some of Oregon’s methods south.

For instance, prohibition of disposing electronics in landfills and incinerators would force Texans to recycle.

Currently, Texas has few e-cycling options: one of which is mail-back. This method allows consumers to mail the product back to the company and the company breaks down the unit for recycling.

According to Guidry, there are also several drop-off locations, such as Best Buy, where people can return computers and the company makes sure it gets recycled.

Additionally schools and local governments will sometimes host collection drives allowing people to drop-off e-waste.

Baylor does its part recycling e-waste through the Information Technology Services department.

According to the Information Technology Services website, Baylor strives to support sustainable efforts by conserving energy, recycling responsibly and reducing paper consumption.

Some working equipment is donated to Goodwill Industries where it is refurbished in order to be sold or recycled, and in many cases the materials can be reused in other equipment on campus in order to keep it operational.

Becky King, associate vice president for Information Technology at Baylor University, said Baylor donates or sells at a discounted price all computer products after their use to various nonprofit organizations.

“Baylor IT department was responsible for recycling 4.75 tons of scrap metal and cables last year,” Smith Getterman, sustainability coordinator at Baylor, said. “It’s great that they recognize the importance of recycling and reuse out of their department.”