A first-in-the-nation law went into effect Wednesday in Maine, requiring 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 shoulder the cost of sending electronics to recycling centers where toxic materials such as lead and mercury are removed.
"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 of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which lobbied for the new law.
The Maine recycling law is the first to bill manufacturers directly for the cost, Hinck said. A California law requires customers to pay a disposal fee when they buy a TV or computer monitor, while Maryland imposes registration fees on computer makers and disburses the proceeds to municipalities for use in recycling old hardware.
Up until now, Maine communities charged people $15 to $20 to dispose of their electronic gear. Under the new law, consumers can drop off their TVs and computer screens for $2 apiece.
Maine has approved five consolidators that will gather and sort the "e-waste," send it to recyclers and bill manufacturers for the cost according to the amount of waste they originated, said David Littell, acting commissioner 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.
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 of Maine.
The primary purpose of the law is to keep those materials from being released into the environment from incinerators or landfills. But it is also intended to encourage manufacturers to use less lead and design products that lend themselves to recycling.
Cities and states across the country are considering 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.
By Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)