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Dont toss that old iPod in the trash

Apple, local service sort and recycle music player components
by: L.E. BASKOW, Dave Haskins, production supervisor at Free Geek, disassembles an iPod, tossing parts in their respective recycling bins. Working units are readied for reuse.

If you were one of the many to receive a new iPod as a gift during the holiday season, chances are it's replacing an older one you don't need anymore.

If your old iPod is no longer working, it can be recycled in an environmentally responsible manner. If it's still playing, you can sell it or give it away. Just don't throw it in the trash.

Electronic waste is a big problem in Oregon. Kathy Kiwala, project leader for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's Electronics Recycling Program, estimates that each person can generate up to 20 pounds of e-waste in a single year.

'There are 3.6 million people in Oregon,' she says. 'That's a lot of e-waste coming up.'

E-waste is not just a problem from the standpoint of growing landfills. Materials inside computers and small electronics (including iPods) are toxic - brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are of particular concern.

'These are things we've found to make our products better, but they have definite health risks for all of us that are using them or working and living around them,' Kiwala says. 'Both of these are carcinogens.'

Experts say BFRs and PVC are harmful only during manufacture and processing, but Kiwala says flame retardants can be found in dust particles inside computers.

And PVC, which can be found in everything from shower curtains to computer products, can harm immune and reproductive systems.

'That smell is something our society has come to recognize as the 'new product smell,' ' Kiwala says. 'It's the PVC off-gassing off of those products.'

Dead or alive, iPods welcome

So how can you keep your old iPod - and its BFRs and PVC - out of the landfill?

Apple Computer has a take-back program that reclaims old iPods for processing, and gives you 10 percent off the purchase of a new one.

Mike Luevane, a help desk technician for Wilshire Credit Corp., took his old iPod to a Portland-area Apple Store in October after its hard drive went dead.

While Apple declines to comment on iPod life expectancy, Luevane says his lasted a couple of years.

'That's not too bad for as much beating as it took,' he adds.

Luevane was told it would cost more to repair his old iPod than buy a new one.

'As soon as I found out I could get a discount on a new one, there's a no-brainer.' He bought a new Nano, one of several iPod models.

Representatives for Apple say the company doesn't know how many old iPods have come back to Portland-area stores, and wouldn't say how many iPods have been reclaimed through its take-back program.

According to the company Web site, Apple will eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs in its products by the end of 2008, and iPods gathered through the take-back program in the United States are processed domestically rather than being shipped overseas.

Apple has sold more than 120 million iPods overall and says it already has shipped more than 3 million iPods with BFR-free logic boards.

Luevane likes supporting companies with a history of environmentally friendly manufacturing and disposal.

'That's going to help sway my decision,' he says, adding, however, that 'in the end, it comes down to a matter of cost and functionality.'

Kiwala thinks Apple's take-back program is a great way to make sure e-waste is being handled responsibly, and she encourages consumers to approach other companies about making sure their products are being disposed of properly.

She says BFRs and PVC are turning up in everything from bird eggs to human tissue. 'We can't expect to throw something out there and have it not impact everything around it,' she says.

Free Geek takes them, too

When an iPod gets recycled, it's taken apart and its components - battery, display, circuit board, etc. - are sorted before being sent to vendors for grinding and melting.

'No one does all the recycling,' says Dave Haskins, production coordinator at the nonprofit Free Geek in Portland. Like Apple, Free Geek contracts out to vendors that specialize in recycling particular components or materials.

'Free Geek is more of a very light recycler. The heavy recycling, the industrial processing, all happens off-site,' Haskins explains. 'We don't expose our employees or volunteers to any hazardous materials.'

Free Geek is set up to refurbish and recycle many electronics and computer components.

There are suggested donations to cover the costs of processing most items, but Free Geek will take iPods free - plus, you can take a tax deduction for the fair market value of your old iPod.

Haskins says only a handful of iPods have been brought in to Free Geek. For working units, both hard-drive and flash-based iPods are handled the same way: All user data is wiped so that it's unrecoverable. Free Geek then reinstalls either the iPod operating system or Linux.

'As long as something's functioning, it should make someone happy and be a useful item that should keep going,' Haskins says.

Haskins thinks Apple's take-back program is a step in the right direction, though he'd like to see a bigger push toward reuse of iPods that can still be salvaged.

'It's positive. It's great for keeping e-waste out of landfills, because there's an incentive,' he says of Apple's take-back program.

However, he adds, 'I think they end up recycling and breaking down a lot of good, working iPods that could just be sent back out to people. The environmental impact is much smaller than destroying it and making a new one. The energy that goes into that, the chemicals that go into that, it's just sort of a shame.'

For consumers like Luevane, environmental responsibility is important, and having options like Free Geek and Apple's take-back program is reassuring.

'Given the way technology is, there's going to be a fair amount of disposal required,' he says. 'I'm just hoping it gets disposed of in the correct way, the best way, if there is such a thing.'


Apple Computer's iPod Take-Back Program

Take your old iPod to your local Apple Store, or visit Apple's iPod Recycling Web page: www.apple.com/environment/recycling/ipodrecycling

Free Geek

Where: 1731 S.E. 10th Ave., 503-232-9350, www.freegeek.org

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

Oregon DEQ Electronics Recycling Program

Information on Oregon's Electronics Recycling Law, which goes into effect in 2009: www.deq.state.or.us/lq/electronics.htm