Rethink: Helping people safely dispose of electronic waste

The first official day of the Consumer Electronics Show conference in Las Vegas featured Apple Computer, (AAPL) IBM, (IBM) Gateway, (GTW) Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and others launching an initiative called Rethink. Leaders of Intel, (INTC) Microsoft (MSFT) and the Federal Communications Commission also spoke Thursday or late Wednesday.

Rethink’s mission is to work with government in coming up with ways to help people safely dispose of electronic waste.

EBay (EBAY) Chief Executive Meg Whitman said eBay came up with the idea and enlisted others to help. "It’s a tired cliche, but I really think this is a win-win situation for everyone," Whitman said.

She also says the effort is partly motivated to head off government regulation. Officials released no funding details, but the gist of the effort will be posted at ebay.com/rethink.

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"Old PCs are piling up. It’s clear we need to step up to the plate, and do this soon," Whitman said at a CES press conference that was a surprise, since it hadn’t been on the CES agenda. "If we don’t, government regulators will step in."

Rethink also includes the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Postal Service.

Whitman cited research from Gartner that roughly 133,000 PCs are retired each day. Those PCs might contain toxic materials such as lead, cadmium and mercury.

Only about 10% of PCs in the U.S. are recycled, according to figures from the Grass Roots Recycling Network.

Rethink wants to raise U.S. awareness of the problem and provide tips on what to do with old PCs and related gear.