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updated 12/26/2008 7:55:54 PM ET 2008-12-27T00:55:54

Washington residents looking to safely get rid of old computers and TVs can do so for free when a new statewide recycling program begins next year.

A state law that starts Jan. 1 allows consumers to bring unwanted computer monitors, laptops and TVs to 200 permanent collection sites at no charge.

But those getting brand new TVs and laptops for the holidays and itching to dump the old ones are urged not to rush the recycling sites immediately.

"People don't need to go out in the first week," said Miles Kuntz, manager of the state's electronic products recycling program. "Go when it's convenient."

The Washington law passed in 2006 was the first to require manufacturers to be responsible for recycling electronic waste, which end up in the landfill and can seep lead, mercury and other toxic chemicals into the environment.

"Our law is a true producer responsibility law," Kuntz said. "It puts the onus of the financing on the manufacturer."

17 states now have such laws
Seventeen states have laws on electronics collection and recycling, said Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling, a nonprofit group.

But "we really have a patchwork of state regulations right now," Linnell said.

California allows manufacturers to charge consumers an upfront recovery fee of $6 to $10 when the product is purchased. An Oregon recycling program also starting Jan. 1 allows free electronics recycling but lets manufacturers set up their own recycling systems.

In Washington, 212 manufacturers formed the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority to manage the collection and recycling.

Manufacturers such as Sony, Samsung, Dell and Hewlett-Packard pay for the operation based on their market share and how much of their products get returned, said John Friedrick, the authority's executive director.

They're required by law to set up one collection site in every county, and one in every city with more than 10,000 people.

The authority will pay more than 200 recyclers, retail stores and thrift stores such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul by the pound for collecting the products.

25 million pounds in first year
About 25 million pounds of electronics, or about 4 pounds per person, are expected to be recycled in the first year of operation.

Frederick said residents should take their time to head to the sites, for fear that the sites would be overwhelmed during the first weeks of operation.

VCRs, DVDs, keyboards, computer mice, gaming devices, speakers and microwaves aren't included in the state's free recycling program. Environmentalists and other pushed the law to ensure that materials that posed a threat to human health or the environment wouldn't end up in landfills.

A typical computer or TV monitor has about 4 to 8 pounds of leaded glass, Kuntz said.

Computers, TVs and other products that still function can be reused. Those that can't are sent to one of three processors, approved by the state Department of Ecology.

The processors include Total Reclaim in Seattle and IMS Electronics Recycling in Vancouver.

Craig Lorch, co-owner of Total Reclaim, said his company will recycle nearly all the materials collected. They'll break apart the products and recycle the leaded glass, plastics, aluminum and other metals.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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