AUGUSTA, MAINE – Today Maine launched the first manufacturer-funded program in the nation designed to capture hazardous electronic waste for safe disposal and recycling.
Under the law enacted in 2004, beginning January 18, municipalities will send waste computer and television monitors to consolidation centers that are fully-funded by manufacturers. The manufacturers also pay to safely ship and recycle the electronic waste according to Maine’s environmentally sound recycling guidelines.
Each computer or television monitor contains an array of toxic materials, including 3-8 pounds of toxic lead, which, if not properly handled, will be released into the environment. Maine has also banned the landfilling and incineration of computer and television monitors, effective July 20, 2006.
By requiring producer responsibility, Maine’s approach encourages manufacturers to use less lead and other toxic materials and saves consumers and municipalities money otherwise spent to dispose of “e-waste.” Maine’s law was prompted by the lack of a national program to address electronic waste and by the glut of obsolete electronics filling attics, garages and closets.
Computers are the nation’s fastest-growing category of solid waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About 20 versions of e-waste legislation are now being considered in cities and states across the country.
“I am proud that Mainers have shown our strong environmental leadership again, this time tackling the safe recycling of electronic waste to keep toxics out of our environment,” said Maine Governor John Baldacci. “Maine’s electronic waste recycling law based on product stewardship is a national model as it protects our environment, saves taxpayers money and puts costs where they belong to encourage safe design and recycling of electronic wastes.”
“Beginning today, computer and TV manufacturers are responsible for the safe recycling of their products in Maine,” said Jon Hinck, staff attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Manufacturer responsibility brings innovation, efficiency and market-savvy to solve the growing electronic waste problem that once burdened local governments, taxpayers and the environment. This ‘manufacturer responsibility’ approach provides a cheap, safe and convenient way to get those dead computers and TVs out of attics and basements all over Maine.”
“Maine is a leader in making manufacturers responsible for the costs of responsible recycling of electronic waste,” said Barbara Kyle campaign coordinator for the national Computer TakeBack Campaign. “Having the electronics manufacturers, rather than taxpayers, absorb the e-waste disposal costs creates the right incentives and market signals. Thanks to Maine for putting the e-waste issue on the right course. We look forward to wide-spread adoption of the manufacturer responsibility approach so that products will soon be made less toxic and more recyclable.”
“Thanks to the new e-waste law, Portland residents now have a cheap, convenient and environmentally sound way to get rid of old TVs and computers,” said Portland Mayor Jim Cohen. “Until today, we had to charge $15 to $20 to cover costs for recycling a computer monitor: the full cost is now just $2. Product Stewardship of this kind fits in with our vision of a sustainable economy.”
“It is ironic that the very electronic technology that provides so many educational opportunities for children with learning and other disabilities also contains a very potent neurotoxic mix that can be so harmful to the developing brains of our children,” said Sandy Cort of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “Toxics from electronic waste do not belong in Maine’s soil, water and air. The Maine Legislature was right to pass the electronic waste law and Governor Baldacci was right to sign it into law to protect Maine’s children.”
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. 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, until Maine’s law, manufacturers have avoided such responsibility in the U.S.
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 to minimize costs to taxpayers.
Consumer electronic products account for 40% of the lead found in landfills. Less than 10% of outdated computers are currently refurbished or recycled.
The cost of managing discarded computers and electronics now falls on taxpayers and local governments, or on the environment through unsafe disposal. Manufacturer responsibility programs shift the responsibility for collection and recycling away from taxpayers and local governments, and provide incentives for companies to develop products that are more durable, recyclable and less-toxic.
Maine’s electronic waste law works like this:
• Municipalities will send waste computer and television monitors to consolidation centers that are fully-funded by manufacturers that sell computer monitors and TVs in Maine
• If they prefer, manufacturers can take back their own products directly.
• Manufacturers pay to safely ship and recycle the electronic waste according to Maine’s environmentally sound recycling guidelines adopted by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection. (Reports verify widespread mishandling of hazardous electronic waste, including units shipped to developing nations and broken down in ways harmful to workers, including children, and the environment.)
• Manufacturers cover costs apportioned according to the number of their units recovered in Maine, including a share of “orphan units,” those made by manufacturers now out-of-business.
• Maine’s DEP has adopted rules to control costs, and approves the consolidation centers and the collection and recycling plans.
• Maine has banned the landfilling or incineration of computer and television monitors effective July 20, 2006.