Lead in monitors forces end to recycling event
THE BIANNUAL Computer Drop-off Event involving the Hawaii Computers for Kids Program, CompUSA, Lenox Metals, and the City and County of Honolulu is on hold indefinitely, after the state Department of Health informed the sponsors that commercially generated cathode ray tubes no longer can be dumped into city landfills.
"It was a completely-out-of-the blue decision (in January) that caught us all by surprise, because we've been doing this for years," Ken Goldstein, founder and state coordinator of Hawaii Computers for Kids, said last week.
Readers frequently contact Kokua Line to ask how they can get rid of, or donate, old computers.
The popular collaborative event allowed people with unwanted computers to either have them reused, recycled or disposed of as regular trash. The last drop-off was in November and was tentatively scheduled to be held again in May.
The event will be on hold while the city assesses the impact of the Health Department's decision, said Suzanne Jones, the city's recycling coordinator.
The Health Department's ruling applies only to commercially-generated CRTs, not those from households, and does not apply to any computer monitors or TVs collected from residential sectors by the city, she said.
Meanwhile, Lenox Metals "has quit accepting computer equipment for recycling and disposal," confirmed Ray Welch, the company's compliance manager.
"The determination was made in January that we would stop accepting them until we could find a reputable resource on the mainland that could accept them for recycling," he said.
"As of today, Lenox has not been cited by the (Health Department) for any violations," Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said Friday.
The concern over commercially generated loads of computers is nothing new.
The Environmental Protection Agency, in 2000, issued a determination that most color TVs and computer CRTs are hazardous waste because they contain high levels of lead, which can contaminate water and soil, Okubo said.
At that time, EPA cited exemptions for householders, but required that small and large quantities generated by businesses need to be either recycled with an authorized recycler or disposed of at an authorized facility, she said.
That being the case, we asked why the department decided to step in only in January.
Okubo said it contacted Lenox because "of issues that were raised."
Earlier, she said the department's "understanding was that Lenox was not disposing of computers from commercial entities."
Okubo said Lenox Metals received a permit in January 2004, for their current site, which includes processing of electronic waste. "Prior to that they received a permit in April 2000, to process scrap metal."
Lenox Metals is required to ship hazardous waste materials to a processing plant that is able to "properly handle disposal," she said. The company was notified "that they need to comply with their permit requirements and state rules governing hazardous waste."
Welch acknowledged the Health Department did contact the company "with their concerns about cathode ray tubes going into the landfill." But, he said, "As far as know, we've been in compliance with the requirements."
Meanwhile, R. Scott Belford, founder of Hawaii Open Source Educational Foundation, thinks the Computer Drop-Off Event should be permanently canceled, because he said most of the computers end up in landfills.
Based on his experience working at the Computer Drop-Off Event for the past three years, Belford said HOSEF volunteers and others, including city refuse workers, "have filled numerous city trash trucks with the computers people brought to be recycled."
Okubo says the city is allowed to dispose of the unwanted computers because they are "homeowners' computers that were being dropped off" -- considered to be similar to the city picking up the computers as part of household trash.
Belford maintains that it has been "grossly inaccurate to call (the Computer Drop-off Event) a 'recycling' event, as this distracts from groups like HOSEF who truly try to do the right thing with old computers."
HOSEF's "mission is to promote and sustain the use of Open Source Software through advocacy, outreach, support, and the recycling of donated computer e-waste from the general public."
In response, Jones said the city initially coordinated the biannual "computer recycling day to help determine, and possibly develop, the potential for more e-waste recycling. We've learned and adjusted the program with each event."
However, computer monitors "have been a constant issue," she said.
In addition to working with Hawaii Computers for Kids and, more recently, HOSEF, Jones said the city has partnered with different recycling companies at each event, depending on who was willing to take the monitors and who had the best market options.
But, also, "We disposed of whatever was unsuitable for reuse or recycling," she said.
Jones said that while the biannual event was set up to deal with household computers, "We were having increasing issues with businesses attempting to utilize this free drop-off to accommodate their computers."
This is even more of concern now that the ban on commercial CRTs is in effect, she said.
Welch said he's hopes Lenox will be able to find a computer recycling source on the mainland, "because we know there is a big demand from people out there to dispose of them. The EPA has said it believes there are 250 million computers out there that have reached their end of life and need to be disposed of."
Jones says the city is "working to develop other options for computer recycling," including setting up computer collection at the city's refuse convenience centers.
On the state level, the Health Department said it is working with Goldstein, of Hawaii Computers for Kids, "and the industry toward better solutions to dealing with electronic waste."
Goldstein says he gets 300 to 400 calls a month from people wishing to donate computers. He sends out weekly notices via a DOE message list, putting teachers in touch with donors with functional computers to arrange pickups. He also will sometimes put donors in touch with nonprofit organizations.
Goldstein can be reached at 521-2259. Or a faster way, he said, is to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, phone number, pickup information and donation information.
Meanwhile, check hosef.org for information on how volunteer members of the nonprofit HOSEF organization collect and refurbish functional computer hardware, install free open source software, then donate them to schools and nonprofit organizations.
Call Belford at 689-6518 for more information.
Got a question or complaint?
Call 529-4773, fax 529-4750, or write to Kokua Line, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu 96813. As many as possible will be answered. E-mail to email@example.com
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