updated 6/29/2006 10:12:46 AM ET 2006-06-29T14:12:46

Consumers wanting to ditch old printers, personal computers or other electronics gear made by Dell Inc. will soon be able to recycle them for free, chairman Michael Dell announced Wednesday.

“We don’t think the consumer should have to pay for the responsible retirement of used computer equipment,” Dell said.

The new recycling policy, already available in Europe, is slated to launch in the United States by September and the rest of the world by November.

Industrywide, companies have begun adopting more affordable recycling policies to prevent cadmium, mercury and lead and other hazardous materials contained in many electronics from ending up in landfills as so-called “e-waste.”

This month, Apple Computer Inc. expanded its computer recycling program for U.S. customers.  Those who buy a new Mac through the Apple store online or any Apple retail store will receive free shipping and recycling of their old machines.

Dell’s main rival, Hewlett-Packard Co., meanwhile, said Tuesday it was expanding its product recycling program with a series of summer collection drives.

The drives, running between June and September in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico and Oregon, will let consumers drop off a range of electronic devices for recycling free of charge, the company said.

Under Dell’s previous policy, available since 2004, consumers could only get free recycling of any brand of computer or printer if they bought a new Dell system.  For those not buying a new system or who don’t have Dell equipment, the Round Rock, Texas, company would take back used electronics for $10 per box, as long as it weighs less than 50 pounds.

Under the new system, consumers wishing to recycle their old Dell gear for free must go online, enter the product’s serial code at Dell’s Web site, pack the item, and then schedule a pickup time.

The items are then sent to one of Dell’s U.S.-based recycling centers to be reused or broken down into components.

“Dell is setting the standard for the industry with this new policy,” said Kate Krebs, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, who joined Dell in making the announcement during a conference call with reporters.

It’s the responsibility of consumers to erase any personal data beforehand, said Tod Arbogast, senior manager of Dell Sustainable Business.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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