Beginning Jan. 24, a disposal ban on a host of electronic devices — the final provision of the Pennsylvania Covered Device Recycling Act, signed into law by former Gov. Ed Rendell in 2010 — will go into effect. As mandated by the CDRA, it will become illegal for desktop computers, laptop computers, computer monitors, computer peripherals such as printers, keyboards, and mouses, tablets like iPads and Kindles and televisions with viewable screens larger than four inches to be disposed of in state landfills. All of that “e-waste” must be recycled instead. Cell phones and PDAs are exempt from the law.
“The issue is the heavy metals like lead, cadmium and mercury that seep out of computers and TVs and into the ground,” said Lisa Kasianowitz, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which has been tasked to oversee and enforce the CDRA. “Those toxins do not decompose ever, so we just want to protect the environment as much as possible.”
According to the DEP, a typical cathode ray tube computer monitor, for example, contains four to seven pounds of lead; large CRT televisions can contain even more lead.
“E-waste is only about two percent of the total waste stream, but it counts for about 70 percent of toxic materials in landfills,” said George Jugovic, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania environmental advocacy organization PennFuture. “For a long time people have been throwing away a substantial amount of items that can potentially threaten our drinking water supply, so this law is nothing but a good thing.”
Instead of putting their unwanted electronics out with the rest of the trash, individuals and businesses will be required to bring their e-waste to municipal drop-off locations, or to collection events held by stores or electronics recycling companies.
As far as enforcing that mandatory recycling, Kasianowitz said that “people are not going to get a fine or a sign on their door or anything like that, but their devices will not be picked up and will just be left to sit outside.” Still, if an individual is caught illegally dumping such e-waste at a landfill, the CDRA provides for fines of up to $1,000 for the first offense and up to $2,000 for subsequent violations.
Under the CDRA, electronics manufacturers bear the biggest responsibility for e-waste recycling — and face the biggest penalties for noncompliance. Since Jan. 1, 2012, all manufacturers who sell computers, monitors, computer peripherals and televisions in Pennsylvania have been required to register their covered device brands with the DEP each year, with an annual registration fee of $5,000, and to establish and manage a plan to collect, transport, and recycle e-waste, including the methods and locations of collection, the names of the recyclers and recycling methods used ― such recyclers must be properly certified or accredited ― and an estimate of the weight to be collected in the first calendar year.
Manufacturers who do not register properly or fail to follow any of the CDRA guidelines can be hit with up to a $10,000 fine for the first violation and $25,000 for subsequent violations.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania retailers are prohibited from selling new covered devices unless that brand is registered with the DEP and included on the list of registered manufacturers that’s publicly accessible on the DEP’s website, where additional information about the CDRA and e-waste recycling is available. Further, the CDRA prohibits both electronics manufacturers and retailers from charging consumers a fee for the collection, transportation or recycling of their covered devices. Some collection locations are allowed to charge fees if they’re not a retailer or affiliated with a manufacturer’s recycling program, although municipality collection points are typically free as well.
“This law is really for the manufacturers,” said Kasianowitz. “The DEP has a lot of people overseeing this, compiling all the data and ensuring manufacturers are fully compliant with the law.”
Jugovic said he is glad that manufacturers, not local governments, are ultimately responsible for e-waste recycling.
“The nice thing about this law is it’s not solely dependent on the government — it’s up to manufacturers because they’re on the hook for the disposal, so there’s incentive to facilitate the creation of electronics recycling businesses and green jobs,” he said. “Not every environmental problem can be solved with a market-based solution, but when it can be, it minimizes government oversight and gets the job done. We’re all for allowing manufacturers to get into the recycling scene. That’s a win for everybody.”
And once everybody gets the message that they can’t just put their devices out on the curb anymore, said Kasianowitz, “I’m sure they’ll do the right thing and take them to recycling collection points. I think most people are aware of their role in environmental stewardship.”
*Source: Michael Allen Goldberg, Journal Register