Augusta – The Maine State Legislature has enacted legislation to create a system for the collection and recycling of obsolete computers and televisions containing toxic materials. By final votes of 82-60 in the House and 34-1 in the Senate, the bill has been sent to the Governor for his signature. This bill was identified as a top priority of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
“This bill protects the health of Maine people and our environment by setting up effective recycling for the old computers that are piling up in attics, basements, and garages throughout Maine,” said Jon Hinck, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Junk computers are a hazard because they contain toxic materials that should not be released to the environment.”
The average computer monitor or television contains 4-8 pounds of hazardous lead as well as other toxic chemicals, such as cadmium and mercury. An estimated 100,000 computers and televisions are stockpiled each year in Maine. As many as 1,000,000 units may become electronic waste by 2010.
Maine’s law, unlike a measure adopted by California last year, assigns significant responsibility to the manufacturers of the products. The “producer responsibility” concept is designed to draw on the resources and innovation of private companies for efficiency and minimize costs to Maine people and towns.
While some manufacturers opposed the legislation, Hewlett-Packard Company – one of the world’s leading computer manufacturers – strongly supported the bill. In a letter to the Legislature, Hewlett-Packard explained that the bill “establishes a system that will help drive environmental improvements while keeping costs to a minimum for consumers in Maine.”
The bill requires that manufacturers establish “consolidation centers” throughout Maine by January 1, 2006 where towns can drop off the old computers and TVs they collect from residents. Manufacturers are also responsible for the shipping and safe recycling of the equipment that carries their brand name. Towns may choose to opt-in or out of the system, and can charge small drop-off fees to cover the costs of temporary storage and shipping to the consolidation centers. A bill passed last year banned the disposal of computer monitors and TVs in landfills or incinerators in Maine as of January 1, 2006.
“This bill is a great first step towards not only removing toxics from the waste stream, but also towards the increased recycling of electronics,” says Speaker of the House Pat Colwell of Gardiner. “I am pleased to have worked with Brownie Carson and the NRCM to deliver this resounding victory for Maine’s environment.”
Every year, as Time magazine reports, “an electronic trash heap nearly as tall as Mount Everest is tossed into garbage cans, stashed in garages or forgotten in closets.” Up to 500 million computers will be obsolete in the U.S. alone by 2007. Although European countries require computer manufacturers to be financially responsible for recovering obsolete electronic equipment, to date manufacturers have avoided such responsibility in the U.S.