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Recycling activists condemn US PC makers

Should do better. Much better

US technology companies have been criticised for failing to match their foreign counterparts when it comes to electronics recycling and reducing hazardous waste.

The latest annual report from recycling proponents Computer TakeBack Campaign accused many American computer manufacturers of not doing enough to reduce "e-waste" and of using harmful materials such as lead and polyvinyl chloride in their production processes.

Computer TakeBack gave poor or failed grades to companies such as HP and Gateway ,and was particularly critical of Dell for failing to send company representatives to shareholder meetings involving toxic materials policy. It also said that Dell was putting prisoners' safety at risk by using the US government contractor, UNICOR, which employs prison inmates to recycle defunct computers.

"The Dell position on e-waste is a stain on the soul of Dell -- the company and its founder," said the report.

A spokesperson for Dell said the company encourages consumers to recycle computers by requiring owners of its PCs to only pay shipping charges when returning their of out-of-date machines. Indeed, Dell is only of the few PC companies that take back old computers from customers at a relatively low cost.

The Dell spokesperson added that using UNICOR was not unsafe as it had a good track-record in electronics recycling. In addition, it allowed Dell to recycle computers costly effectively.

Dell has also been criticised by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition for failing to recycling its outmoded machines in sufficient numbers.

The report additionally condemns IBM (NYSE: IBM - news) for selling computers in the US containing brominated flame retardants, which are banned in some countries. IBM does not use the retardant in machines sold in those nations.

The environmental group also said that less than 10 percent of outdated computers products in the US are refurbished or recycled. By 2007, it is expected there will be 500 million redundant computers and monitors in America, according to the US National Safety Council.

Computer TakeBack did though praise the European Union for its efforts in placing the burden on recycling on the manufacturer. The EU's Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive, which was adopted last year, requires manufacturers to collect, treat, recycle and reuse their electronic products. Collections are due to begin in 2005.

However, according to the managing director of one of Ireland's few lectronics recycling companies, many Irish businesses are not currently recycling their old PCs. "There is not a huge amount of recycling in this area in Ireland at the moment," said Brendan Palmer of Electronic Recycling.

Palmer told ElectricNews.Net that larger firms such as banks and insurance companies, as well as government departments and colleges have been very good at electronic recycling, but smaller businesses have generally failed to engage in such activity. The same, he said, applied to consumers.

According to Palmer, the problem is cost. Electronic Recycling charges €22.50 to recycle a PC unit with most of the price due to the toxic nature of monitors. "Everybody wants to recycle, but not everybody wants to pay for it," commented Palmer. He added though that companies and consumers do not have to pay a fee if they recycle high-spec machines, for instance with Pentium 2 processors, as they can be re-built.


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