In the midst of a show dedicated to birthing new technology and gadgets, there was some serious thought Tuesday about where consumer electronics...

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LAS VEGAS — In the midst of a show dedicated to birthing new technology and gadgets, there was some serious thought Tuesday about where consumer electronics go when they die.

“The things that are on display right now are new and shiny at the moment, but somewhere down the road they’re going to be obsolete and ready to be recycled,” said Brian Taylor, editor in chief of Recycling Today Media Group, who moderated a panel discussion at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

“The recycling of electronic goods, in particular, is being pushed by environmental advocates and by governments around the world,” Taylor

The industry, too, is moving forward to address the array of end-of-life choices for consumer electronics, which often contain lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium and other toxic substances. It’s far more complicated than the recycling of glass and cardboard.

The adage about trash and treasure rings true in consumer electronics. A computer that may be obsolete to a techie can be perfectly useful to someone else.

Refurbishing PCs is one option, but it raises data security questions. Recycling, too, is a complex process, given the variety of electronics products on the market.

Demand for gold, steel and other commodities has helped the economics of electronics recycling, said Jeff Zeigler, CEO of Austin, Texas,-based TechTurn, a major recycler and refurbisher.

Five or six years ago, recyclers viewed plastic used in electronics as “very cumbersome and hard to handle,” Zeigler said. “When oil costs $100 a barrel, all of a sudden it’s become very interesting.”

Environmentalists have noted some improvements. In September, Greenpeace updated its Greener Electronics Guide, noting “major electronics firms have made large, green strides since the guide was first launched in August 2006.”

At the show, the Consumer Electronics Association is highlighting its own efforts to go green, including a showcase dedicated to “sustainable technology.”

Late last year, the industry trade group launched www.mygreenelectronics.org, a Web site aimed at consumers. It has a database of “green” electronics, based on unverified U.S. government and company data, as well as a searchable directory of electronics recyclers and corporate recycling programs.

Tuesday’s panelists, representing Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Panasonic, touted their own corporate take-back and recycling programs, as well as some cross-industry partnerships. In general, the panelists favored market-based and producer-driven programs rather than government-mandated ones.

Washington state began an electronics recycling effort in 2007.

Administered by the state Department of Ecology, the program requires manufacturers of computers, monitors and televisions to register their brand names annually with the state and, beginning Jan. 1, 2009, provide “a convenient, safe and environmentally sound system for the collection, transportation and recycling” of those products.

Oregon, California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Connecticut and Texas also have electronics-recycling laws.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com