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DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Henry Renteria-Vigil, once a welfare recipient, found his riches in the wastelands of Colorado’s landfills.

He did so by starting a company that recycles and refurbishes the old computers, printers and fax machines that languish in people’s homes or end up in state garbage dumps. The first year of business in 2006, Renteria-Vigil’s company made a $23,000 profit, he said. This year, he’s projecting $1.5 million in earnings.

Colorado lawmakers are also seeing the potential in helping carve another niche in the recycling industry, and they’ve introduced a measure they say will help make it happen by banning certain electronic products from going in landfills and directing the waste to be reused instead.

“This is a lifetime commitment that our company is giving the community of Colorado,” said Renteria-Vigil, 37, who owns the Denver-based R2 Stewardship. “I plan on retiring in this business.”

Lawmakers and representatives from the recycling industry brought bins filled with old faxes, printers, computers and televisions to the state Capitol on Wednesday to promote the bill, which passed the Senate and will be debated in the House in the coming weeks.

Supporters argue that promoting the recycling industry by diverting old electronics away from landfills will create jobs. They also say the materials going to landfills now – gold, copper and aluminum – are in demand in the manufacturing business.

“Look at all the jobs in these bins,” said Democratic Sen. Gail Schwartz, pointing to the pile of electronics. Schwartz co-sponsored the bill, which also directs state agencies to use a certified recycler for electronic devices by July 1, 2013.

Schwartz said the bill also addresses environmental concerns that toxic metals from electronics can end up in groundwater.

A “60 Minutes” investigation uncovered Colorado e-waste in China.

“It was embarrassing that Colorado would be held out as an example of really poor oversight,” Schwartz said.

Colorado Conservation Voters, which supports the bill, said 17 other states have passed laws similar to what Colorado is considering.

Republican Rep. Don Coram, a rancher and miner sponsoring the bill in the House, likened electronic recycling to mining.

“I just see this as another form of mining,” he said.

Between 40,000 and 161,000 tons of used electronics are thrown away each year, and an average of 8,000 tons are recycled, according to the Colorado Conservation Voters.

“Colorado is a green state,” Renteria-Vigil said. “We need to start acting like a green state.”

LINK: Senate Bill 133

– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

CBS4 staff added to this report.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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