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The Minnesota Daily

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The Minnesota Daily

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Students dispose of bulky electronic waste properly

Campus sustainability leaders hosted an electronic waste drop-off and panel.

With more HDTVs, iPhones and laptop computers invading everyday life, many consumers wonder what to do with the old stuff collecting dust in attics and basements.

Campus sustainability leaders hosted an electronic waste drop-off and an educational panel “Electronic Waste: A Global Problem Starts Here” on Thursday to address this issue.

“Not only do electronics take up a large volume in the landfills because they’re very hard to compact and decompose, the metals and chemicals in these objects often have environmental hazards of their own,” said Holly Lahd, the EcoWatch president and event organizer.

Electronics contain mercury, lead and other hazardous materials that can be harmful to the environment when discarded in dumpsters, an act made illegal in Minnesota a couple years ago.

Nationally, 2.2 million tons of electronics made their way to a landfill in 2005 – the most recent data available, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Many consumers have old computers or TVs in storage that they don’t know what to do with, Lahd said. (Lahd is a former Daily employee.)

Events such as the University’s e-waste drop off can attract swarms of people wanting to rid their homes of old electronics, she added.

Last year, when the Mall of America held a similar event, three parking lots overflowed with recycled TVs, computers and other electronics, causing the event to close down early.

While only a handful of students disposed of their monitors and cell phones on Thursday, a statewide disposal will be held on April 11-12 this year, projected to be the largest in Minnesota history.

State Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed a bill that passed in 2007 that requires manufacturers to be responsible for recycling 60 percent of their electronics. The bill requires 80 percent to be recycled by 2009.

“Now a year later, it’s working really well,” Higgins said, noting Best Buy oversees semitrailer after semitrailer of electronic disposal.

Lisa Bujak, with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said manufacturers make a strong effort to follow through and make sure the electronics are recycled properly.

Brian Bell, president of Engineers without Borders and co-organizer of the event, said while Minnesota requires producer responsibility – which is one of the harshest requirements on manufactures in the country – only nine states impose such e-waste laws.

The city provides free recycling of electronics at certain locations, but many people aren’t aware of their existence, Lahd said.

Minneapolis saw 571 tons of computers and TVs in 2007, according to its Web site.

Many recycled electronics are shipped to Asia to be dismantled by farming villages. However Waste Management does not export any e-waste and professionals break apart the components properly.

Bell said when electronics are exported the metals reclaimed impose extreme health and environmental hazards on the villagers.

“It’s an awareness thing about what’s going on around the world and also about what you can do with e-waste locally,” he said.

Bujak said there is still a large educational gap when it comes to e-recycling.

People have to realize they can’t throw their TVs in a back alley or on a dirt road, she said.

“People think about recycling and they think about plastic bottles and aluminum cans, but they usually don’t think about TVs and computers,” Lahd said.

She also said the issue is important especially to students because they’re the target for new technology.

“We’re big consumers of these products and there’s a big push for students to upgrade to the next big thing,” she said. “We need to think about what happens when we do that. Where does our old computer, our old iPod go?”

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