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Trying to Keep Tons of Old Electronics Out of Texas Landfills

PHOTO:  A bill being debated at the Texas State Capitol would require manufacturers to follow accredited standards or to use a certified electronics recycler. Old electronics contain heavy metals and toxins that can leach into the ground and water if not disposed of properly. CREDIT: Curtis Palmer
PHOTO: A bill being debated at the Texas State Capitol would require manufacturers to follow accredited standards or to use a certified electronics recycler. Old electronics contain heavy metals and toxins that can leach into the ground and water if not disposed of properly. CREDIT: Curtis Palmer
May 8, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas - Nearly 150,000 tons of old televisions, computers, phones and other electronics are disposed of every year in Texas. Keeping as much as possible out of landfills is the aim of legislation being debated at the State Capitol.

The bill, House Bill 3465, would require manufacturers to follow accredited standards or to use a certified electronics recycler. One such company is TechnoCycle in Houston and San Antonio. Its president, Mike Buckels, said electronic waste can be full of toxins.

"You can have some real problematic or hazardous materials inside of those electronics," he said. "You can have cadmium or, potentially, beryllium. You can have mercury and phosphorus, and so certified electronic recyclers will have developed programs that will ensure that they mitigate the risk or eliminate the risk."

When electronics are not properly disposed of and end up in landfills, those toxic substances can leach into the ground and water and pose a threat to public health.

Another potential health threat is to those workers who process the materials, so Buckels said certified e-waste recyclers also are required to have systems in place for their safety.

"Make sure that all their people have protective equipment, gloves, masks, glasses ... just whatever is necessary to make sure that their employees are protected from any environmental or health and safety issues," he said.

While the environmental threat from the heavy metals and toxins is the first concern, Buckels noted that a lot of old electronics also contain confidential data.

"Imagine the information that's on each of our personal phones, it's on our laptops, our computers at home," he said. "So there are some problems with the disposal of electronics. And again, a certified electronics recycler is going to have the data side of it as well, making sure those data risks are eliminated as well."

More information on local programs is online at texasrecyclescomputers.org. The text of HB 3465 is at legis.state.tx.us.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX