January 4, 2011

Vermont Joins Other States In Recycling E-Waste

According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, Vermont is joining 24 other states in instituting laws banning electronic waste from landfills.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated in 2007 that the U.S. generates about 2 million tons of e-waste each year.  This waste can contain lead, mercury, cadmium and other potentially harmful chemicals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if those toxins leach from landfills into the environment, risks to human health can include cancer and nervous system damage.

In states that do not have recycling laws, consumers are left to dispose of old equipment on their own by paying a few dollars per item at a computer store or by going to big-box retailers that sponsor programs to take old items.

Vermont's new law bans the disposal of e-waste in landfills and requires that it be separated from household trash.

Most states ask electronics makers to pay for recycling programs, which helps consumers avoid the added cost of recycling.

As new state laws have been passed, they have covered a longer list of electronics over time, generally starting out with computer monitors and televisions and later extending to accessories. 

A Maryland law passed in 2005 explicitly said it did not cover peripherals like a mouse, printer or keyboard.

"The Vermont law is taking advantage of lessons learned in other states," Scott Cassel, executive director of the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute, told The Associated Press (AP).

Clare Inness, marketing coordinator for Vermont's Chittenden Solid Waste District told AP that because businesses now know that they will be responsible for taking care of their products at the end of their useful lives means "they have an incentive to have these products contain fewer hazardous materials and be recycled more easily."

Environmentalists have said in recent years that a lot of the U.S. waste ends up being shipped overseas, where it is often dismantled in ways potentially harmful to workers and the environment.

Robin Ingenthron, CEO of Good Point Recycling in Middlebury, told AP that circuit boards usually go to smelters in Europe, where metals are extracted, and that cathode ray tube glass often goes to developing countries like Mexico or Malaysia.


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