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THE COMPUTER WASTE PROBLEM The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that electronic goods, including computers and related materials, comprise approximately 2 million tons of waste on an annual basis in the United States. Indeed, according to California’s Integrated Waste Management Board, in excess of 6 million out-of-date computer monitors and other pieces of electronic equipment are stockpiled in homes in that state alone waiting for disposal. There is growing concern about disposal of these products, as many of them contain hazardous substances such as mercury, cadmium and lead. VOLUNTARY PROGRAMS So, what is the solution? Computer companies IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard and retailers Staples and Best Buy have started offering voluntary recycling options for customers. Yet, these programs reportedly have not translated into substantial returns of outdated computer systems. PROPOSED LEGISLATION Against this backdrop, there has been a call for legal action, and on March 6 Rep. Mike Thompson, D-CA, introduced a bill in Congress, H.R. 1165, titled “The National Computer Recycling Act.” The stated purpose of the act is to establish a grant and fee program through the EPA to encourage and promote the recycling of used computers and to develop a national infrastructure for the recycling of used computers. HOW THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION WORKS Under the act, 180 days after the submission to Congress of the results of a study by the EPA relating to hazardous wastes in computer products, the EPA would be required to assess a fee on the sale (including sales over the Internet) to end-users of computers, monitors or electronic devices designated by the EPA. The fee is not to exceed $10 per computer, monitor or device. Companies that collect the required fees would be permitted to keep three percent of the collections to pay the cost of administering the program. Non-profit organizations would be exempt from the fee requirement. The fees collected would be used to support the cost of the recycling program and to make grants to individuals, organizations and local governments for collecting or processing used computers, monitors or other designated devices for recycling purposes, for reuse and resale of such equipment, and for extracting for reuse materials from the equipment. The act would require the EPA to consult with representatives of the computer industry as well as waste management professionals, environmental and consumer groups, and local governments in implementing this program. Finally, one year after enactment of the act, and annually for four additional years, the EPA would be required to report to Congress on the status of computer recycling. NEXT H.R. 1165 has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration. A similar bill submitted by Rep. Thompson did not progress very far in Congress last year. Whether this bill will gather momentum remains to be seen. Still, computer waste is a real and growing problem, and a workable solution must be found. Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris ( www.duanemorris.com), where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology disputes. Mr. Sinrod’s Web site is www.sinrodlaw.com, and he can be reached at [email protected]. To receive a weekly e-mail link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please type Subscribe in the subject line of an e-mail to be sent to [email protected].

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