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Pennsylvania consumers and businesses now have to think twice before chucking that computer to the curb with the rest of their trash thanks to a landfill ban that took effect this January. The ban is part of the Pennsylvania Covered Device Recycling Act, enacted in 2010.
The law establishes an electronic waste, or e-waste, recycling program for certain electronic devices and says that consumers and businesses in Pennsylvania can no longer dispose of electronics in state landfills or at the dump. Electronics must now be recycled through a county electronic recycling program, submitted through a manufacturer mail-in or special collection event, or taken to a store directly. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is charged with enforcing the law.
Though many other states have passed electronic recycling laws and adopted programs, Pennsylvania is unique in its multiphase approach to implementation. The phase-in over two years ensured that manufacturers started collection programs; recyclers were certified and permitted; waste haulers and landfills were educated about the new law; and consumers were notified of the new law and had multiple options to recycle their devices.
DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz says the phase-in approach allowed enthusiasm for the new law to grow naturally. “The ripple effects have been outstanding because more and more municipalities are creating electronic collection programs,” she said. “All of the major media outlets, and many of the smaller news networks, in the state have had a story on this, and people are interested in how to recycle their electronics.”
Manufacturers and haulers in the state seem to be complying with the law and working to ensure it is being followed, according to Kasianowitz.
“Manufacturers have been submitting plans to us detailing how they will offer their collection programs, what recycler they will use,” Kasianowitz said. “They have also been paying their yearly fee of $5,000 to sell electronics in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Under the law, every manufacturer that sells electronic devices must register with the DEP and pay an annual registration fee of $5,000. They must also collect, transport and recycle their covered devices, and the take-back programs have to be free of charge. They are also required to submit an annual report to DEP that details the total weight of the devices sold nationally for the past two years, and in Pennsylvania for the past year. Penalties can be levied by the state if manufacturers’ records don’t add up.
The law is focused on businesses and consumers and does not extend to municipalities and counties in Pennsylvania, but many have established recycling programs anyway to handle their electronic waste. If municipalities and counties decide to recycle their electronic waste, they must use a DEP-approved recycler that has been certified to handle electronics. DEP keeps a list of municipality-sponsored e-waste collection efforts, which it says have grown tremendously. In Philadelphia County, computers, TV’s and cellphones are accepted at all hazardous household waste events. Philadelphians can also bring their computers and TV’s to any of the city’s Sanitation Convenience Centers Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Pennsylvania isn’t the only one addressing e-waste. Last year the federal General Services Administration directed agencies not to dispose of a host of electronics including computers, cellphones, copiers, telephones, digital cameras and TV’s into landfills or incinerators. GSA also ordered reuse of excess electronics that still work. It proposed reuse within agencies, transfers to other agencies, donations to schools, states or non-profits and selling the electronics to private purchasers.
DEP says the benefit of the new law will be two-fold – economic and environmental. Products such as gold, silver and platinum and base metals like copper, iron and aluminum can all be taken from these devices and re-purposed. And the heavy metals from the devices, such as lead, cadmium and mercury will no longer be in the trash stream and no longer have the potential to seep into the soil.
E-waste recycling is no panacea – it can prove to have some negative effects. Reports have detailed the potentially hazardous effects that result if discarded computers aren’t handled properly.
This story was produced in cooperation with GIMBY.org, a Washington, DC-based news blog about the local impact of the federal government.