By Katie Zezima
BOSTON, Jan. 18 – Maine became the first state to require manufacturers to pay the entire cost of recycling old televisions and computer monitors when a state law went into effect on Wednesday.
Under the law, passed in 2004, consumers bring old televisions and monitors to a transfer station, which takes the products to one of five state-approved recycling centers. The devices are then separated by manufacturer and recycled. The center bills the company for the cost.
The law was a response to a debate over how to dispose of electronic waste and who should pay for it. A push for a national law failed a few years ago, and states have since taken the lead. Three, including Maine, have enacted laws.
California places a surcharge of $6 to $10 on new products at the time of purchase; the money goes to a state recycling program. In Maryland, manufacturers pay a fee each year to help cover recycling; the money helps provide grants to cities and towns.
Washington State is considering a law similar to Maine’s. At least 20 states are exploring the issue.
Before the law went into effect in Maine, consumers paid municipalities $15 to $50 to dispose of each TV or monitor. Residents will now pay only a fee of $2 an item for transportation to the recycling center. The state will ban electronic equipment from landfills starting in July.
“This allows people to get rid of their materials inexpensively and gives them assurance they will be handled and recycled in an environmentally sound manner,” said Jon Hinck, staff lawyer for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which supported the law. It estimates that 100,000 monitors and TV’s go unused and unrecycled in Maine each year.
In Maine, Hewlett-Packard supported the state’s approach, Mr. Hinck said, while other companies preferred a law like California’s.
The estimated cost to companies is in the tens of thousands of dollars, Mr. Hinck said. Products of companies that no longer exist are recycled by others based on market share.
Companies worry that the state will not be able to enforce the law, giving an advantage to those that do not pay their bills or cannot be found.
“If they’re flying under the radar, Maine can’t enforce the statute, and they are getting a fairly lucrative advantage in the market,” said Rick Goss, director of environmental affairs for the Electronic Industries Alliance, a trade group. “It’s far from certain Maine can enforce certain parts of the statute out of state, let alone out of the country.”