Deep inside a dimly lit warehouse filled with towers of oversized cardboard boxes and piles of electronic equipment, three workers picked at personal computers. They stripped the systems of metal and wire, separating elements and placing them in appropriate containers.
HAGERSTOWN Deep inside a dimly lit warehouse filled with towers of oversized cardboard boxes and piles of electronic equipment, three workers picked at personal computers.
They stripped the systems of metal and wire, separating elements and placing them in appropriate containers.
"I feel like I'm doing a service for the environment," said Juanita Smith, one of the workers and a lifelong resident of Hagerstown, Maryland.
She was also helping the defense contractors who count on employees like Ms. Smith to protect them every day.
"You'll be amazed what we find," said Lisa S. Collins, a Frederick resident. "We'll open a CD-ROM drive, and out pops something with a missile system on it."
Ms. Collins is the vice president of business development for Freedom Electronics Recycling Inc., a Hagerstown company that specializes in recycling electronic equipment -- anything from personal computers and printers to video cameras and cell phones.
Freedom charges a per-pound fee to recycle the electronics, usually by stripping components down to more simple elements that can be sold or reused, such as wire, copper, aluminum and precious metals.
Founded in January 2003, the company is part of a burgeoning industry that has grown with each advancement in the world of technology.
"Over the last five years, electronic recycling has become much more popular and much more used," said Bob Tonetti, a senior environmental scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency. "Electronics become obsolete quite quickly. These are resources that can be reused and recycled."
Ms. Collins said the biggest selling point in the electronic recycling industry is the recyclers' ability to destroy data in computer systems that are ready to be discarded.
Freedom's client list includes defense contractors, financial institutions, health care providers and law firms -- all companies that must protect their clients' privacy.
But Ms. Collins said another factor drives business in the electronic recycling industry: environmental protection.
A standard computer monitor contains an average of 4 to 6 pounds of lead, Ms. Collins said, and electronic waste often ends up in toxic forms in foreign nations.
Freedom owner Richard Schulman and Ms. Collins created a policy of keeping the electronic waste they recycle in the United States. They said other electronic recycling companies export materials in dangerous and toxic forms.
"This stuff can be put on a boat and shipped to China or Thailand or Africa, where it's not going to be managed environmentally correctly," Ms. Collins said. "I always say to someone who's considering choosing us or someone else: 'You have to ask yourself the hard questions. Where is this stuff ultimately going?'"
While the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, enacted by Congress in 1976, outlines ways in which companies must dispose of hazardous waste, Ms. Collins said enforcement "has not been very strict."
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News