Recycling obsolete electronics isn't as simple as separating soda cans, beer bottles and newspapers into color-coded boxes for a curbside...

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SALEM, Ore. — Recycling obsolete electronics isn’t as simple as separating soda cans, beer bottles and newspapers into color-coded boxes for a curbside pickup. Those awkward monitors and televisions that can be as heavy as anvils are crammed with dozens of toxic metals, such as mercury, lead or cadmium.

But recycling used electronics, or e-waste, is just as environmentally important, say advocates of a new electronic waste recycling bill being considered in the Legislature. The proposal would require computer and television manufacturers to either pay into a state-contracted program to recycle used goods, which would be free for consumers, or set up their own program.

“There is increasing demand among Oregon consumers for a convenient, accessible, free way to recycle the electronics that are stacking up in their garages and basements,” Rep. Ben Cannon, D-Portland, said Friday at a House committee hearing on the measure.

Oregonians chucked 32,500 tons of computers, televisions and other obsolete electronics in 2005, but most of that went straight into landfills or dumps where those toxic chemicals could eventually leach into the water table.

Environmentalists say that these materials should be recovered so they can be used again, and it should be done in a way that doesn’t harm the environment or recyclers.

Of the electronic devices that can be recycled currently, either through private companies or other programs, many are shipped to Asia where there is an absence of environmental safeguards. Workers often strip out metals and plastic by hand, exposing themselves and the landscape to harmful toxins.

“The United States is by far the largest waste generator and appears to be the largest exporter of this toxic waste stream,” said Sarah Westervelt, a toxics research analyst for Basel Action Network, an electronic waste watchdog group. “We are heavily impacting communities in developing countries many times in violation of their laws and dumping our toxins on those who can least deal with them.”

Washington, California, Maine and Maryland have laws that regulate electronic waste. And 20 other states and New York City are considering legislation that would regulate the recycling of obsolete electronic products.

Oregon’s bill would cover televisions with screens larger than four inches, desktop computers, laptops and monitors. The bill doesn’t include some of the most ubiquitous electronic gadgetry such as cellphones, iPods, DVD and video players because, lawmakers said, the effect of these devices on the environment is less clear.

Most computer manufacturers who participated in a working group that devised the legislation, including Hewlett-Packard, support the bill. Organizations that take used computers and refurbish them for use by businesses and nonprofits also spoke out in favor of the bill but said they were concerned it might impact their ability to refurbish computers.

“I have been hearing from other refurbishers that e-waste laws in their states have had a harmful impact on their programs,” said Lorraine Kerwood, executive director of NextStep Recycling, a nonprofit that fixes up old computers for use in rural communities. Kerwood said that’s because recycling programs become so popular that refurbishers have a hard time getting old machines.

Wayne Rifer, a member of the Portland-based Green Electronics Council, a group that supports the recycling of electronic products, said the new bill was a good first step toward supporting a manufacturing process that takes into account a computer’s entire life cycle.

“Making them, using them for three years and then throwing them into a landfill does not sound like a very sustainable way for our future society,” he said.