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Peters-Michaud: Computer recycler says state efforts need a boost

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

Large companies and government agencies may be doing a good job of recycling their electronic equipment and computers, but a bill pending in the Legislature would help small firms and individuals get with the program.

That’s the assessment of Neil Peters-Michaud, head of Cascade Asset Management. The 10-year-old company refurbishes scrubs and dismantles electronics and computers for companies and public agencies around the country.

With more than 80 percent of old electronics ending up in landfills -- according to the federal EPA -- he says he believes the time has come for passage of a bill proposed by State Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, that would ban dumping and require manufacturers to meet recycling quotas or face penalties.

Though the legislation has been introduced numerous times in recent years, observers believe its chances are better this time around because Democrats now control the Assembly, Senate and the governor’s post.

Black’s bill is similar to a Minnesota law that in 2008 led to the recycling of more than 33 million pounds of electronics that state.

“The amount of equipment collected in Minnesota just skyrocketed,” Peters-Michaud says.

Nationally, some 18 states have passed electronics recycling legislation, including Michigan, Illinois and California.

In Wisconsin, a state DNR survey done three years ago showed that state residents have 3.8 million computers and 7.5 million televisions in their homes. The survey indicated only 20 percent said they planned to recycle their aging electronics.

The key to boosting recycling, Peters-Michaud says, is reaching individuals and small businesses.

“We service large enterprises and municipalities that generate large volumes of equipment,” says Peters-Michaud, who says his firm’s efforts end up generating money for those entities.

He lauded community collection events, which often result in tons of electronics being gathered. But he says less than 15 percent of state residents participate in such efforts, and an untold amount of old computers and televisions are sitting in people’s basements and garages.

“Many of them are going into landfills, and because they contain hazardous materials, that’s unsafe,” he says.

If a manufacturer-sponsored recycling effort were set up in Wisconsin, he says he is certain many consumers would embrace it.

Peters-Michaud acknowledged that consumers would end up paying a few dollars more for their TVs and computers, but he says that is fairer than having the general public pay for their disposal and recycling.

“It shifts the bill from the tax bill to the product,” he says.

“And it levels the playing field by making all computer manufacturers participate, not just some like Samsung, which has sponsored a few huge collection events in Wisconsin.”

He says the bill also creates an incentive to reduce the toxic chemicals in computers, while creating some infrastructure for collecting equipment from the hard-to-target groups of individuals and small businesses.

Moreover, the legislation could help reduce costs for some of Cascade’s customers and create more opportunities for Peters-Michaud’s firm.

He says it now has more than 100 employees and handles more than 400 tons of used computer equipment at its northeast Madison headquarters every month. Nationally, it processes more than a million pounds monthly.

Its revenues will be around $8 million this year and it has grown at a rate of 40 percent a year.

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