California to Step Up CRT, Cell-Phone Recycling

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California consumers will be charged $6 to $8 per computer monitor or other display device starting Jan. 1 in a bid to step up recycling efforts, according to a bill signed into law Wednesday.

Senate Bill 50, a California bill that modifies the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday night, according to a spokesman for State Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), the bill's author. A spokesman for the California Waste Management Board also confirmed the bill's passage.

In addition, Schwarzenegger also signed Assembly Bill 2901, a bill co-authored by Assemblywomen Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) and Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), which mandates the establishment of a no-cost collection, reuse and recycling system for proper disposal of used cell phones by July 2006.

The new CRT (cathode ray tube) recycling law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will charge consumers a fee for buying computer monitors or televisions and will pay recyclers to dispose of the displays safely: $6 for a 4-inch to 15-inch screen; $8 for a 15-inch to 35-inch screen, and $10 for screens with a diagonal length of more than 35 inches. In return, recyclers will be paid 28 cents per pound to recycle the CRTs, televisions and displays.

The two laws promise to save California IT administrators money. With the state funding, recyclers essentially will be able to pick up CRTs and cell phones from companies and consumers and dispose of them essentially for free, using the state money to offset the recycling costs.

Regarding her cell-phone legislation, Assemblywoman Pavley said only about 5 percent of consumers recycle their cell phones, and most don't realize that they contain hazardous materials. The cell-phone bill will require retailers to provide containers or other methods to recycle mobile phones.

"We've made it easy on the consumer, easy on the store owner and easy on third-party recycling companies," Pavley said in an interview, praising the governor for his stance on the environment. "We've also potentially created some new jobs, so it's a win-win-win."

But analysts said the new CRT law will add yet another layer of certification and regulation to PC makers, which ship a single product into multinational regions, each with their own set of restrictions. It's also not clear how the surcharge will be enforced on out-of-state or international vendors shipping directly to consumers.

"Our customers are going to be happy customers," said Tom Hogye, vice president and general manager at United Datatech Distributors of Santa Clara, Calif., which owns ECS Recycling. "They're going to have an opportunity to retire CRT devices in California essentially for free."

Recycling a PC has become a multimillion-dollar business, prompted by the secondary market of third-world companies that are able to take an "obsolete" PC in the United States and turn it into a functional product.

Those PCs and CRTs deemed too old or too broken for resale are mined for components, then scrapped and disposed of. PCs faster than 266 MHz are resold, according to a representative at recycler Gold Circuit Inc., based in Chandler, Ariz. But he said the demand for CRTs is decreasing as businesses shift to flat panels, meaning more CRTs are being scrapped.

The leaded glass that can make up of almost half of a CRT's weight, however, is considered to be hazardous waste and must be disposed of according to certain regulations. While a small number of domestic CRT recyclers have purchased the crushers and smelters necessary to break down the glass for disposal, environmentalists point to the growing number of facilities that simply separate out the leaded glass and ship it overseas to lower-cost facilities. Such transportation is forbidden under the international Basel Convention, which the United States has never signed.

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