Skip to main content


I recently spent an entire day cleaning my basement. One result was a small mountain of old computers and electronics to be trashed. My first thought was to simply stack it on the curb on trash day. One call to the refuse company junked that idea.

They informed me that my community had an electronics recycling program. A call to the city told me that this was true, but the cost was $10 per computer or monitor and $25 per TV set. Man, what I considered trash was going to cost me a fortune to get rid of.

It seems that everyone must become a recycler these days. Actually, broadcasters were among the first to help eliminate dangerous chemicals from landfills.

Broadcast Engineering readers older than 50 may remember the days of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) transformers. PCB-containing oil was a common coolant and dielectric used in high-voltage, high-power transformers and capacitors. Power companies and broadcasters had millions of these devices in use. A key concern was fire. If a transmitter building containing PCB transformers should catch fire, the station could be looking at millions of dollars in damages, lawsuits and soil reclamation costs.

Now, it seems, we're on the cusp of another environmental disaster — disposal of computers and other electronic waste, or e-waste for short. Some studies estimate that the number of obsolete computers in the United States will soon be as high as 680 million units. As few as 5 percent of people recycle their computers, compared with a 42 percent rate for overall solid waste and a 70 percent rate for major appliances.

Here comes U.S. Congress to the rescue. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-OR, and Jim Talent, R-MO, have introduced S. 510, a bill that would provide for a temporary tax credit to help jumpstart a national recycling infrastructure. In the House, Reps. Mike Thompson, D-CA, and Louise Slaughter, D-NY, coauthored H.R. 425, a bill that would impose a $10 fee on certain electronics products to finance a grant program administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Some states have already adopted laws requiring the product manufacturer to be responsible for bearing the cost of recycling used electronics. California has imposed a tax of $6 to $10 on the sale of most computers. Best Buy, HP, Staples and other electronics dealers have implemented recycling centers or will take back electronics for a fee.

Imagine an engineer trying to drop off an old model 300 production switcher at Best Buy for recycling. The engineer says, “Sure, I bought this here. It's an original DIRECTV satellite receiver.” Trying to recycle an old Ampex ACR-225? Say, “Yep, this was my first Beta VCR.”

In May, the U.S. Postal Service began providing postage-paid envelopes to anyone wanting to recycle e-waste. These envelopes could be used to mail cell phones, digital cameras, inkjet cartridges, MP3 players and PDAs, among other things, for recycling. The postage is paid by Clover Technologies Group, a firm that recycles, remanufactures and remarkets inkjet and laser printer cartridges and small electronics.

Perhaps you could break down those larger electronics, like that production switcher, into envelope-sized packages. Stuff those thousand or so parts into multiple envelopes, and let someone else take care of the recycling. One word of warning: Be sure to remove any station call letters. You probably don't want to be identified. Now, that would be bad PR.

Send comments