A recent tax law and new recycling requirements are expected to increase the supply of gadgets that can be given new life.
The tax break gives businesses an added 50 percent "bonus deduction" from a company's profit for equipment purchased between last May 5 and the end of next year. The deduction, in a law signed by President Bush, is on top of the 30 percent first-year write-off that many businesses take on new equipment.
Bush also signed the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, which directs companies on the disposal of used electronic equipment such as computers, copiers and fax machines. The National Recycling Coalition says nearly 500 million PCs will have become obsolete in the period from 1997 to 2007.
Melissa Saldana, president of American Computer Salvage in Fort Worth, Texas, is among a band of entrepreneurs hoping to take advantage of the turnover in electronics equipment. She said revenue grew 30 percent this year.
Computer makers such as Round Rock-based Dell Inc. have stepped up programs to take back old PCs. Still, plenty of people fail to recycle, Saldana said.
"The main thing is not to throw them out," she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We don't want to have them go into landfills. It just irks me."
Environmentalists opposed the dumping in landfills of hazardous material such as lead in televisions and monitors, plastic and copper in circuit boards and small amounts of chromium, lead, nickel, and zinc in other electronic scrap.
Salvage companies typically charge $5 to $10 to get rid of an old electronic device. Many of them resell relatively new equipment and send the rest to be ground up for proper disposal.
Recycling programs have failed to find new life for many of the country's old cell phones. Four national wireless recycling programs collected only 2.5 million phones from 1999 through early 2003, according to research firm Inform Inc. There are about 148 million cellular subscribers in the United States.
"Obviously, we need many more programs," Inform's Bette Fishbein told The Dallas Morning News. "They have to be more convenient to consumers, and the consumers need to be made aware of them."
A spokesman for the cell phone industry said most cell phones don't get thrown in the trash but instead are "simply lying around collecting dust."
A network of charities, wireless companies, and refurbishing firms has sprung up to collect and recycle old phones. Consumers can drop off phones at many wireless stores and charities that accept them. Some phones are cleaned and resold in Latin America or Asia, and the rest are recycled for parts.