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Richmond Paves Way for E-cycling
May 8, 2003


The day before a state Senate bill hit the floor requiring electronics manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling obsolete equipment, Richmond passed an identical ordinance, the first city in California to do so.

Councilman Tom Butt's "take-back" ordinance, requiring those who make, distribute and sell electronics to accept them from consumers for recycling at no charge, was passed by the council Tuesday.

It will be reviewed by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and others before it comes back for a second reading.

A ground swell of support has been growing statewide for mandated recycling. Computers contain lead, mercury and cadmium -- "e-waste" in techspeak -- much of which is stockpiled, illegally dumped or sent overseas where it pollutes foreign landfills, government reports show.

The high cost of recycling is "the appropriate responsibility of the producers and consumers of hazardous electronics, and not local government, state government or taxpayers," Butt said.

Trade groups, including the Consumer Electronics Association, battled Democratic state Sen. Byron Sher's bill when he introduced it last year. It was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis. But Wednesday, Sher unveiled his retooled bill. This time around, he has the support of the governor.

"There is no industry opposition this time," Butt said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of lead and 70 percent of heavy metals in the nation's landfills comes from junked electronics.

The state Department of Toxic Substances banned computers from landfills in 2001, but many find their way there nonetheless, said Jessica Fiedor of the nonprofit Californians Against Waste.

"It used to be, you'd buy a television and keep it for 10, 15 years," Fiedor said. "The average life span of a computer is two years. This stuff is quite toxic."

Last week, about 10 tons of electronic waste turned up in a vacant lot in Long Beach. Hazmat crews cleaned up the mess at an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000.

The estimated costs of appropriately disposing of electronics in California range from $75 million to $150 million a year, according to Californians Against Waste.

Forty California cities, including Berkeley, Chico, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Sunnyvale, have introduced legislation similar to Butt's. Richmond was the first city to act on its ordinance.

Representatives of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce declined to comment.

Butt said it is critical for the state to adopt similar measures.

"It doesn't work unless everybody does it," Butt said. "Otherwise, people would just go to San Pablo to buy a computer if it costs $10 less there, since they choose not to go through the bother of recycling."

 Contact Rebecca Rosen Lum at 510-262-2713 or rrosenlum@cctimes.com