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October 20, 2007

Profits from junk

American households use an amazing amount of material goods, from cars to toasters to computers. When the goods are replaced, the old ones have to go somewhere. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden discusses three options. Listen

"For some there's an established used market. Vehicles are the best example. So you get tired of your old car, you sell it. It goes to the used car market and so that vehicle gets handed down to other people," he says.

"For some other used materials there's a market for the raw components -- for the raw materials -- particularly metals that can be salvaged and resold. And in fact this has been occurring more with metals because the prices of metal have been going up. People have heard about copper prices being so high and people taking old materials and trying to get the copper out to resell," he adds.

"But I think what many of us worry about most regarding used appliances or used toasters ... is many of them may end up going to a landfill -- and, of course, this raises potential environmental problems.

"And so what are some of the proposed solutions here? Well, one is to charge a fee to either the manufacturer or to the consumer to offset possible damage when you do that, when you take an old appliance, for example, to the landfill. Or to motivate people to reuse it," he says. "In other words maybe you would get the fee back if you sold that appliance to someone else.

"As we get bigger, as we have more people, as we have more appliances and gadgets and electronic materials," Walden concludes, "this issue is likely to increase in importance."

Posted by deeshore at October 20, 2007 08:00 AM