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Q&A: U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson on PC recycling

July 26, 2002 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- In an effort to find an environmentally sound solution for disposing of millions of PCs, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) recently introduced a PC recycling bill that imposes an upfront fee on computer sales (see story). End users, consumers and businesses would pay as much as $10 for the monitor and an equal amount for the PC at time of purchase, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would use the money to fund community-based PC recycling centers.
Some 41 million PCs, which contain hazardous materials such as lead, will have to be disposed of this year, and in an interview with Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau, Thompson outlined his arguments for the bill.
Q: What's your best argument for this legislation?
I don't think that any reasonable person would disagree that we have a tremendous number of computers that need to be either recycled or disposed of. We need to provide a mechanism where it will be done most effectively and most efficiently and done in a way that's not going to overfill our landfills, contaminate our rivers and streams, or put anyone's health at risk.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.)
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.)
Q: Private-sector companies are already offering disposal services. Why can't the private sector meet this need?
And they do. But all those efforts combined aren't enough to take care of the problem. There are still people who are shipping these things primarily to Asia where they have, in many cases, children taking them apart and they dispose of them in environmentally inappropriate places and the kids who are taking them apart are exposed to all the toxic materials. There is a problem out there. Private-sector efforts have not met the need.
Q: Businesses that buy thousands of computers may balk at the idea of paying upwards of $10 for the PC and another $10 for the monitor. What will you say to them?
Here's the deal. I'll just be very blunt. It's not necessarily $10 -- that's the ceiling. The EPA will determine the amount of the fee. Anybody that would suggest that you could solve this problem without some sort of financial participation is really off the mark. There is no magic fund where you take money out to pay for it. There are no free riders on this. No one is excluded from contributing to the cost of the problem.
Q: How would the recycling centers work?
The fee money will go into a fund. People in local communities with an idea to solve this problem will apply to EPA for agrant. And you're going to have a more accessible option, down the street and around the block where you can take your computer.
Q: Can recycling centers receiving federal money reselling those computers overseas?
If you are going to get money as a result of my bill, you're going to have to build a project that is environmentally and health and safety appropriate. You're not going to be able to go to EPA and say, "I want a grant because I'm going to send these overseas."
Q: What's the outlook for your legislation?
I don't think it's possible to get it passed this year. I think it's very, very important, however, to get the debate started.

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