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Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba launch tech recycling company

Top TV makers have formed a recycling company to handle tech waste and comply with changing state laws.

Three of the biggest makers of TVs have formed a company to help manage the wave of electronics waste set to swell with the onset of digital television. Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba have launched the Manufacturers Recycling Management Co. in Minnesota.

That state last year enacted a law making vendors responsible for their brands' discarded electronics. MRM contracts with third-party recyclers including CRT Processing and Materials Processing Corporation, which specialize in handling tired monitors and televisions.

Old televisions and monitors are laced with lead, cadmium, and toxic flame retardants, but careful recycling can recover valuable and reusable metals and plastics.

Since September, MRM has collected some 750 tons of TVs, PCs, audio equipment, fax machines, and other gear through events such as Plug-In to eCycling programs managed by the EPA and more than 20 tech vendors and stores.

MRM has recycling agreements with vendors including Hitachi, JVC, Mitsubishi, Philips, and Pioneer. The company, which currently has just one employee, plans to make money through fees from manufacturers seeking help to cope legally with cast-off electronics.

MRM is set to expand within the next year in Connecticut, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Washington states, and possibly in other states in coming years.

Some 35 states are mulling individual e-waste recycling laws, to the dismay of much of the electronics industry. The Consumer Electronics Association has campaigned for national laws to replace the state-by-state patchwork of regulations. That group runs the Consumer Electronics Show being held this week in Las Vegas, where news of MRM's launch was announced.

"We do desire a federal program and will continue to work toward that," said Christopher Loncto, a spokesman for Sharp.

New rules in Minnesota, for one, appear to be driving up recycling rates there. At the Mall of America in November, for instance, organizers concerned about the danger of traffic jams canceled an e-waste recycling drive that drew overwhelming crowds.

As big brand names try to manage the growing tide of e-waste, small-time entrepreneurs also hope to profit by giving new life to old gadgets. New Web-based companies such as BuyMyTronics and Second Rotation offer to buy people's old iPods and mobile phones.