IMAGE: OLD COMPUTER MONITORS, TVS
Robert F. Bukaty  /  AP
Surrounded by electronics awaiting recycling, Jim Cohen, mayor of Portland, Maine, praises a new state law that requires manufacturers of televisions and computer monitors to pay the recycling costs of their products once they are discarded.
updated 1/18/2006 3:35:41 PM ET 2006-01-18T20:35:41

A first-in-the-nation law that went into effect Wednesday in Maine requires makers of televisions and computer monitors to pick up the tab to recycle and safely dispose of their products once they are discarded.

Under the law, which mirrors the approach taken in Europe and Japan, manufacturers must pay for consolidators to gather and sort the electronic waste, then ship it to recycling centers where toxic materials such as lead and mercury are removed.

Environmental activists and state and local officials met with reporters at a recycling center where consumers can now drop off their old electronic boxes for $2 apiece, instead of the $15 or $20 that it cost a day earlier.

"It's time to bring them out of the attics, out of the garages, out of the closets, out of the basements," said Jon Hinck, an attorney with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which lobbied for the new law. "It's going to be a lot cheaper than it's been before, and we're happy to say that these things will all be recycled in an environmentally sound way."

Variations in other states
The Maine law is the first of its kind because it bills the manufacturers directly for the cost of sorting, recycling and disposal, Hinck said.

A California law requires payment of a disposal fee when a TV or computer monitor is purchased, while Maryland assesses registration fees from computer makers and disburses the proceeds to municipalities for use in collecting and recycling old computers.

Maine has approved five consolidators to manage the "e-waste," send it to recyclers and bill manufacturers for the costs according to the amount of waste they originated, said David Littell, acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Disposal costs for "orphan units" whose manufacturers are no longer in business will be shared by the other companies in proportion to their overall costs.

Littell said the program requires no added costs to the state and no additional state employees.

Toxic concerns
TVs and older computer monitors each contain between four and eight pounds of lead, along with an array of other toxic materials, and newer flat-screen monitors contain mercury, according to the Natural Resources Council, the state's largest environmental group.

The primary purpose of the law is to keep those materials from being released into the environment from incinerators or landfills, but it's also intended to encourage manufacturers to use less lead and to design products that lend themselves to recycling, advocates said.

Cities and states across the country are considering various versions of electronic waste legislation designed to address what the Environmental Protection Agency has called the nation's fastest-growing category of solid waste.

The Electronic Industries Alliance, a trade group representing manufacturers of computers and televisions, expressed concern about the Maine law, suggesting that the state may have difficulty holding some foreign and small generic manufacturers to the same standards imposed on makers of brand-name equipment.

"We clearly want to see this addressed at a national level. We think that's one way to avoid some of those loopholes," said Rick Goss, the association's director of environmental affairs in Arlington, Va.

Goss said there are advantages and disadvantages to the approaches taken by Maine and California. He said his group is keeping close watch on both states to see how their respective programs work in practice.

Apple slow to join
In Maine, Hinck praised Hewlett-Packard Co. for backing the law and noted that it had testified before the Legislature in favor of Maine's approach. He said Apple Computer Inc. initially opposed the measure but later reversed its stance.

Joining in the announcement was Sandy Cort of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, who said capturing potential neurotoxins before they are released in Maine's air and water "will help protect the neurological health of generations of Maine children."

Gov. John Baldacci applauded the law as an example of Maine's strong environmental leadership.

"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," he said in a statement.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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