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Getting the jump on 'E-Cycle'

Oregon health officials are advising people to wait until a new law takes effect Jan. 1 to recycle electronic gear for free, but several local refuse collection services are accepting old TVs, computers and monitors now without charge.

The "E-Cycle" program, approved by the Legislature in 2007, will establish collection sites throughout the state where consumers can bring old electronic equipment that may contain mercury, lead or other toxic substances for safe recycling.

The machines also contain valuable metals such as gold, copper and aluminium.

Three local refuse collectors aren't waiting for the new law that requires manufacturers to pick up the cost of recycling. Rogue Disposal and Recycling Inc., Southern Oregon Sanitation Inc. and Ashland Sanitary and Recycling Service already are collecting these items for free and sending them off to ECS Regenesys in Santa Clara, Calif., for processing.

"We started in October," said Wendel Smith, general manager for the Rogue Disposal's transfer station in White City. "It's a way of saying 'Thank you' back to the community."

Rogue Disposal will accept as many as seven items a day, the maximum number allowed under the new law. The law doesn't include cell phones, printers and other computer peripherals, but Smith said Rogue Disposal is recycling these items as well.

The Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees the program, hasn't listed all the official collection sites throughout the state yet on its Web site, www.oregonecycles.org. Smith said Rogue Disposal will be one of the sites on the list, which will be released after the program begins.

Consumer electronic gear is one of the top holiday gifts this season, according to Consumer Electronics Association, and as consumers buy new gear, they will likely want to get rid of the old stuff.

Electronic waste is already one of the fastest growing categories of trash in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that electronic waste accounts for about 4 percent of the total waste stream, but it is growing two to three times faster than any other single trash source. Holiday sales and the switch from analog to digital television in February 2009 could increase the volume of "e-waste."

Any company that makes computers and TVs sold in Oregon must register with the state and pay a fee, generating an anticipated $350,000 to $400,000 in revenue to administer the program.

According to the DEQ, Oregonians discard millions of pounds of computers, monitors and TVs annually, but only a small percentage is recycled. Millions of pounds of electronic gear also are being stored in homes and garages because people don't know what to do with them.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Wendel Smith, general manager for Rogue Disposal and Recycling, drops a computer monitor into a bin at the electronic waste collection site at the solid waste transfer station in White City. - Jim Craven