Goodwill Recycling

The Goodwill of Orange County, Calif.: It's not just a destination for old clothes and toys anymore. As Americans buy and discard computers at an ever increasing rate, the organization has joined California's effort to keep such devices out of the state's landfills.

In California, residents and businesses cannot simply toss old computers into the trash. The state has designated the cathode-ray tubes and liquid crystal displays often found in computer monitors and laptops as “hazardous waste” and thus banned their disposal in landfills.

The Goodwill of Orange County, located in Santa Ana, has sought to provide an easy way for area consumers to recycle their unwanted computers. “[The recycling program] pretty much evolved because we were getting computer donations whether we requested them or not,” says Randy Taylor, facilities director for the Goodwill of Orange County.

Residents and businesses bring their used computers to the Santa Ana donation center. The Goodwill then sells the computers to local recycling companies, who, in turn, are reimbursed by the state. According to a case study released by the organization, the program collects 85,000 pounds of computers each month.

Meanwhile, statistics demonstrate the potential for the program's success. Approximately 63 million computers will become obsolete in 2005, according to an estimate by the Itasca, Ill.-based National Safety Council. About 75 percent of all computers purchased in this country are piled in attics, basements and other storage facilities, making the high-tech devices prime targets for spring cleaning dumping, says a study by the Sacramento-based California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Environmental groups argue that toxic substances — such as lead and mercury — in computers and other electronic devices could harm human health and the environment when buried in landfills. However, solid waste industry members note that there is no evidence that toxic substances leach from e-waste when placed in landfills.

Orange County's Goodwill is no stranger to recycling. The organization also provides document destruction and cardboard, metal and textile recycling programs. Each month, the Goodwill branch receives roughly 450,000 pounds of textiles, 20 tons of cardboard and 22 tons of metal.

Those bringing recyclables to the Goodwill of Orange County have the satisfaction of recycling and, at the same time, supporting an organization that employs people with disabilities and other barriers to full-time employment, say supporters of the program.