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Lifecyclers braces for post-Christmas rush

Electronic equipment is all around us -- everything from computers and television sets to stereo systems and microwave ovens. The sheer volume of electronic gadgetry is impressive.

Electronic equipment is all around us -- everything from computers and television sets to stereo systems and microwave ovens. The sheer volume of electronic gadgetry is impressive.
Take computers, for example. In one year alone, more than 35 million personal computers are sold in this country -- and more than 20 million become obsolete.
It's a good bet that a lot of people got new electronic equipment and gadgets for Christmas, and Catherine Peterson, manager at Lifecyclers Electronics Recycling in Duluth, is getting ready for a big increase in business over the next few weeks.
"We are anticipating that they will be bringing in their old equipment," Peterson said. "We've had a lot of calls from people wondering about our hours."
State law prohibits landfilling of many of the electronics people use on a daily basis. For disposing of old electronics, many people are turning to Lifecyclers.
"There are many hazardous components in the equipment," Peterson said. "We need to make sure that they don't get into a landfill and that they get disposed of properly."
The glass in computer monitors and televisions contains lead, cadmium and other hazardous elements that should not be landfilled. The circuit boards in all electronic equipment also contain hazardous substances, including lead, arsenic, mercury and in some cases PCBs. These toxics are not a problem when consumers use these products, but they can create environmental problems if they are thrown away with other household garbage.
"People have become accustomed to recycling other products," Peterson said. "Electronics recycling is fairly new. I don't think the public is aware of how hazardous the equipment is."
LifeCyclers accepts anything that has a circuit board. Equipment such as stereo systems, VCRs, phones, video equipment, televisions, computers, copiers and printers can be brought to Lifecyclers, 212 N 40th Ave. W., for recycling. (They don't take most appliances, but they do accept microwave ovens.)
Customers pay 50 cents per pound to ensure the safe disposal of the hazardous materials in their electronic equipment. Some credit can be given for newer equipment that has reusable parts.
Employees at Lifecyclers take each component apart and separate the materials into piles of plastic, aluminum and steel. Some small amounts of precious metals, like gold, silver and copper, are also recovered. The separated materials are then sold.
Since Lifecyclers opened in June 2000, it has processed 95 tons of electronics.
Starting the first of the year, Lifecyclers will begin a new program of refurbishing some electronics for resale. Certain computers that aren't too old or have reusable parts will be refurbished, hard drives erased and then resold. The only requirement to buying a used computer at Lifecyclers is that the customer return the computer for recycling when they no longer want it. There will be no charge for dropping off computers that were purchased at Lifecyclers.
"We're just getting that part of our business set up now," Peterson said. Peterson expects to add a couple more employees to the roster of nine employees once the refurbishing part of the business is up and running. Lifecyclers employs people through the CHUM program who have barriers to mainstream employment.
"It helps the community; it's a job training employment program," Peterson said. "The idea is for people to come in and establish a work history, develop good work habits and slowly but steadily increase their hours. They can stay up to two years, and then we try to place them in mainstream employment."
Lifecyclers is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For an extra charge, customers can drop off computers at the Rice Lake Landfill and they will be transported to Lifecyclers for recycling. Lifecyclers recently received a $10,000 grant from the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation to support the hiring of a half-time social worker.
News to use
Electronic and electrical products may contain hazardous or toxic materials which can cause an environmental problem if discarded in the trash.
Computer monitors and televisions are hazardous because they contain significant amounts of lead. Printed circuit boards contain hazardous metals such as lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury, with significant variation depending on the board.
Batteries in electronic and electrical products may contain lead, mercury and cadmium. Mercury-containing components like switches and relays are found in some electronic and electrical products. PCBs may be found in televisions and computers made before the early 1980s.

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