Last year, 24 million computers in the United States were discarded. Only 3.3 million of those got recycled. Hopefully, a recently-enacted law will improve not only those numbers, but the disposal process of other hazardous materials as well.
On Feb. 8, the exemption for universal waste disposal for households in California expired. From that day forward, households were prohibited by law from throwing away anything the state of California deemed universal waste.
The main reason for the new law is because many items used for home maintenance and repair contain toxic chemicals that can be harmful to the environment when disposed of improperly, more specifically when they go directly into landfills. Electronic waste (known as E-waste) often contains lead, copper and other toxic metals that can be harmful to the environment. Commonly used items considered E-waste are computers/computer monitors, televisions, flat screens, scanners, microwave ovens, photocopiers, fax machines, electronic typewriters, calculators, laboratory equipment, video monitors, VCRs, DVD players/recorders, telephones and telecommunications equipment, and audio equipment.
“People have known about this incoming law for a few years,” said George Alfaro, an environmental compliance specialist in CSULB’s Office of Safety and Risk Management. “It gave time for technology to advance, so that numerous recycling centers could get prepared.”
The new law is really focused on individual households, according to Alfaro, who noted that beginning in 2001 large quantity generators of E-waste such as CSULB were required to dispose of such items through recycling.
“There’s a perception out there that this will really affect us at the university,” he said, “but we’ve had this program in place for a couple of years. We have already addressed the issues of computer equipment and other electronic waste, so the affect on us is minimal.”
For those who want to bring hazardous waste materials to campus to dispose of, well, Alfaro says don’t.
”For the larger items the county of Los Angeles conducts household hazardous waste roundups where you can take hazardous waste items.” Currently, there are five locations throughout Los Angeles County that offer proper disposal for hazardous waste and electronic waste, all for free. You can get the locations and additional information from the City of Long Beach’s Environmental Services Bureau Web site.
So, what are the ramifications if recycling procedures are not followed?
“For large quantity generators there is always the fear of citations as well as large fines to go along with the citation, but for homeowners it’s strictly an environmental issue,” said Alfaro. “For example, if you throw away a computer monitor or anything with a circuit board it contains some traces of toxic metal. If you put it in the landfill with the normal trash, these toxic metals begin to leach out into the groundwater, into the soil and then you have some issues with contamination of drinking water, particularly in the communities near landfills. Of course, we are talking about years and years of accumulation, but the potential effects are still there so this is a way to reduce the likelihood of that happening.”
For more information on how to dispose of hazardous materials, visit the CSULB’s Office of Safety and Risk Management’s Web site or call 562/985-2378.