Computer Recycling

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Millions of personal computers are sold every day in the United States. They are replacing millions of other older computers. Experts say that within two years, more than fifty-million computers will no longer be used in the United States alone. Local, state and federal officials are trying to find ways to deal with these old computers. They say some of the parts contain lead and other dangerous substances that could be harmful to people and the environment.

The National Safety Council says twenty-four-million computers in the United States were retired last year. Yet, it says only about three-million of those were reused or recycled. The remaining twenty-one-million computers were kept in storage, shipped to foreign markets or thrown away in public landfills.

But experts say computers should not be thrown away in public landfills. They say harmful chemicals from computers can mix with other liquids in landfills. In some cases, these liquids go into the soil and threaten ground water.

Most people do not know about the dangerous substances in their computers. The computer screen, or monitor, contains about three kilograms of lead. The lead is inside the glass cathode ray tube. It protects the user against radiation. Lead is widely known to cause central nervous system problems in people, especially children. Recycling industry officials say lead in cathode ray tubes is the biggest environmental threat.

This year, the northeastern state of Massachusetts became the first state to ban lead-lined cathode ray tubes from landfills. Other states and cities are considering similar actions.

Computers contain other harmful metals. Computer switches, batteries and wiring are made with small amounts of mercury and cadmium.

Officials in charge of waste say a system is needed to collect old computers for reuse or recycling. But the electronics recycling industry is new and small. Industry officials say they lack the support needed to deal with the large number of computers. The Environmental Protection Agency now requires large companies to follow rules for dealing with old computers. But recycling industry officials say many businesses fail to obey them. And small businesses and homes in most states are not included in the rules.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English