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County ahead of curve on recycling law

Although many rural Minnesota counties were caught off-guard by a new state law banning TVs and computer monitors from landfills, Becker County has already been recycling the so-called "e-waste" for about a year now.

Because a single monitor can contain up to 8 pounds of lead, counties were required to recycle the material starting July 1.

Rainwater and snowmelt can leach the lead out of the appliances, polluting groundwater. About 12,000 tons of electronic waste has been going into landfills each year, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"CRT (cathode ray tube) glass in monitors and TV sets contain a great deal of leaded glass," explained Ryan Labor, account executive at Asset Recovery Corp., which picks up the recycled appliances from counties and other sources and removes the lead in its 95,000-square-foot building in St. Paul.

Newer monitors that use liquid crystal display screens do not contain lead, Labor said.

Becker County residents can dispose of older model TVs and computer monitors for $10 apiece at the transfer station. That includes all associated computer equipment like keyboards and towers, said landfill manager dean Haverkamp.

The fee is "pretty much in line with what we're seeing around the state," Labor said.

That $10 disposal fee is a deal for residents, because it can cost the county four or five times that much to have the appliances hauled away. Asset Recovery Corp. charges by the pound, and an old console TV can cost the county $50 or $60 dollars to recycle.

"Our cost to dispose of them is considerably more than we charge residents, but if we were to charge more than $10, they probably wouldn't get where they are supposed to be," Haverkamp said.

People can take their TVs and computer monitors to the transfer station office, where staff will help them get it to a special drop-off spot, Haverkamp said.

Environmentally-conscience residents may want to dispose of other e-waste the same way, though it is not required by law.

"Cell phones, printers, copiers, calculators, micro-waves... basically anything with a circuit board in it should be recycled. Circuit boards contain lead solder," Labor said.

A number of European nations require manufacturers to pay for the recycling, Labor noted, but similar efforts failed in the Minnesota Legislature the past several years.

The state law was originally intended to go into effect last July -- when Becker County went ahead and implemented it anyway -- but "it was delayed for political reasons," Labor said.

"There were attempts to pass legislation requiring a fee at the point-of-sale or to make producers responsible for taking them back. It was not successful."

The effort failed this year, as well, and eventually the Legis-lature implemented the recycling requirement without requiring manufacturers to pony up for recycling.

But many tech manufacturers have nonetheless gotten behind the recycling push.

Dell Inc. recently announced consumers could recycle Dell equipment for free.

That followed an announcement by Hewlett-Packard Co. about a series of summer collection drives.

And Apple Inc. is providing free recycling for people who buy Macs through its online or retail outlets, according to the Associated Press.