AUGUSTA, MAINE — On Saturday, July 1, 2006 Maine becomes the third state in the nation to prohibit the landfilling or incineration of old computer monitors and television sets. This step forward in the implementation of Maine’s electronic waste recycling law means that these products will no longer be headed to landfills or incinerators where they can release poisons into Maine’s environment. The landfill ban will also encourage the collection and recycling of obsolete computers and television sets containing toxic materials. The average monitor or TV contains 4-8 pounds of lead and assorted other toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cadmium.
“Junk computers and TV sets can be a hazard because they contain toxic materials that should not be released to the environment,” said Matt Prindiville, Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The good news is, as of Saturday Maine’s old computers and television sets will no longer be headed to landfills or incinerators where they can release poisons into Maine’s environment.”
NRCM worked with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, key stakeholders and the Maine Legislature to address this important environmental issue. In 2004, Maine became the first state in the nation to hold manufacturers responsible for safely collecting and recycling obsolete computer monitors and televisions. Since then, Washington State has passed similar legislation and more than 20 others have legislation pending, modeled after Maine’s law. 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.
“The recycling system is working,” said Carole Cifrino of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “Manufacturers are paying consolidators, municipalities are participating in the program and reducing drop-off fees, and Maine people are seeing the benefits.”
As of January 1, 2006, manufacturers were required to establish “consolidation centers” throughout Maine where towns can drop off the old computers and TVs they collect from residents. From there, manufacturers are 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 may charge a small “drop-off” fee to cover the costs of temporary storage and shipping to the consolidation centers.
Municipalities that participate in Maine’s electronic waste recycling program will save money and reduce costs for citizens. In some towns, electronic waste drop-off fees that used to cost $20 are now only $2.
“We just reduced our drop-off fees from $10 to $3 for most computer monitors and TV sets,” said Leslie Jones, Public Works Director for the city of Augusta. “The recycling vendors have reduced their fees and we’re passing the savings on to citizens.”
Old computers and television sets account for a significant and rapidly increasing share of the solid waste generated in Maine and the nation. The volume of this waste is rising every year due to the emergence of flat panel screens, high definition television (HDTV) and other video technologies.
Discarded computers and other consumer electronics are the fastest growing portion of our waste stream – growing almost three times faster than our overall municipal waste stream. Studies estimate that 315 to 600 million desktop and laptop computers in the U.S. will soon be obsolete. These 315 million or more computers that have or will become obsolete contain a total of more than 1.2 billion pounds of lead. About 40% of the heavy metals, including lead, mercury and cadmium, in landfills come from discarded electronic equipment.