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Region 1: EPA New England

Do the Right Thing - Reuse and Recycle Your Old Computer This Weekend in Barre, VT

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

By Robert Varney
September 17, 2002

All of us depend on the environment for clean water, safe air and healthy food. But we also have a responsibility to do our part – to make individual choices that help, rather than harm, the environment.

This weekend, central Vermont residents can make such a choice. Through a unique cooperative effort, residents will have a chance to sell or recycle their old personal computers instead of discarding them in the trash and, ultimately, a landfill.

Dubbed the “Computer Drop ‘N Shop Technology Reuse & Recycling Event,” the two-day event in Barre, Vt. includes a computer drop-off day Friday and a pickup day Saturday where residents will be able to purchase used computers and parts that are still in working order. The unique part of this event is that all of the computers and accessories will be evaluated by volunteer technicians before they are made available. The event is being sponsored by the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District, with support from the Northeast Recycling Council, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and EPA New England.

If computer and electronic component waste don’t seem like a big deal, think again. Most computers manufactured today become obsolete in three years or less – a major reason why a National Safety Council study predicts that more than 300 million personal computers will be headed for the junk heap by 2003. Despite available alternatives for disposal, EPA estimates that 80 percent of these discarded computers will end up in landfills or incinerators.

Personal computers contain many toxic materials, including mercury, chromium and cadmium. For instance, computer monitors contain a leaded glass screen called a cathode ray tube. While the lead used in computer screens helps to shield users from radiation, it is also a heavy metal capable of damaging the nervous system. EPA estimates that currently half of all heavy metals found in our landfills can be traced back to discarded electronics.

EPA is working hard to change this situation. EPA sponsored one of the first electronics recycling events in the country in 1996 in Somerville, MA, where we collected 21,000 pounds of electronic equipment. We've also produced a how-to manual for New England towns and cities looking to set up recycling programs for electronics and other materials. And on Oct. 4 and 5, partly through our efforts, a consumer electronics recycling event will take place at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord, NH.

On the national front, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman last week announced a “Resource Conservation Challenge” program, which has made electronic products recycling a top priority. Among the program’s goals set for 2005: boosting the national recycling rate from 30 percent to at least 35 percent and curbing by 50 percent the waste generation of 30 chemicals, including lead and mercury.

Recycling and waste reduction work: In programs like EPA’s ongoing WasteWise program, more than 1,200 partners from business, government and other institutions have voluntarily reduced more than 35 million tons of municipal solid waste, thus saving landfill space and waste disposal costs.

But to really make progress, we all need to get involved. Vermonters can do their part by participating in this weekend’s Computer Drop ‘N Shop event. The event, at the Barre City BOR, 20 Auditorium Hill, will run from noon to 7 p.m. Friday (for dropping off computers and parts) and from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. Saturday (to shop for a wide variety of used computer equipment). Admission is free and please feel free to call the CVSWMD at 1-800-730-9475 or 1-802-229-9383 for buyer and seller guidelines.

Robert W.Varney is regional administrator of EPA's New England Office

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