Why Tossing Your Old Computer Monitor Could be Hazardous and Illegal

By Veena Clay December 4, 2014

So, your old computer monitor has finally taken permanent turn for the worst and is now ready for disposal. What to do? Well, there may be a number of beneficial ways to dispose of an old computer monitor: recycling, donating and repurposing spare parts are options, but there are also a number of choices to avoid. In fact, simply tossing your old monitor could be hazardous, and in some cases, illegal.

That’s because, in order to work properly, many computer monitors contain chemicals that are harmful to the environment if released. For instance, LCD monitors produce visible light by sending electrical impulses to the mercury contained within them. Manufacturers continue to use the dangerous liquid since few other sources possess the qualities necessary to produce this desired effect.

Yet another factor regarding disposal is the increasing speed with which computer monitors and electronic devices containing hazardous wastes are being discarded. In 2005, the average lifespan for a computer monitor had shortened to about two years, down from the five years reported in 1992. Shorter lifespans keep consumers on the lookout for new monitors.

As consumers continue to seek out newer styles or the latest technological upgrade, turnover rates have increased. This, in turn, means an increased number of computer monitors destined for disposal on an almost yearly basis.

This also means it is crucial for consumers to have a working knowledge of both the environmental risks, and in some states, the legal risks of improperly disposing old computer monitors. Luckily, a number of e-recycling services are well versed in the best methods of disposal available today and can assist with recycling monitors safely.

Many computer monitors contain hazardous wastes

Computer monitors, like so many electronic devices can sometimes contain a number of dangerous chemicals. Disposal can cause a release of toxins into the air, ground water or soil. When hazardous electronics are disposed near lakes and streams, the water often becomes contaminated.

Thus, it is important to know which monitors are hazardous and why. The standards for this assessment are usually specified in country-specific regulations imposed by governmental bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency here in the U.S.

According to the EPA, an electronic device is considered hazardous under a number of complex circumstances. Hazardous waste belongs to a special EPA category unto itself and has special rules attached to disposal. The regulations for disposal of hazardous wastes may vary from state to state.

What types of wastes can be found in computer monitors?

Electronic devices can be deemed hazardous for a number of reasons — mainly their contents. Computer monitors, in particular, are susceptible to a hazardous waste categorization. Typically, the older a monitor, the more likely it contains hazardous components.

For instance, both old and new monitor models tend to contain mercury, as mentioned. Other chemical contaminants, like cadmium, lithium and harmful flame retardants, can also be found in monitors. In addition, some of the outer shells of monitors can contain phosphorous coatings or be made of PVC plastics.

It is illegal to landfill computer monitors in some states

Knowing the hazardous material contained within computer monitors makes it easy to see that they do not belong in landfills. In most cases, when the monitors remain intact, there is a reduced risk of leakage. However, the possibility of a monitor remaining intact over time in a landfill is extremely slim.

Every one of the chemicals contained in monitors could seep into soil. Contaminated soil eventually works its way into groundwater reservoirs, thereby poisoning water supplies and weakening local ecosystems. Clearly, the effects of landfilling monitors are extremely hazardous and detrimental.

State landfill bans

A number of states have taken action to prevent environmental exposure to hazardous chemical found in computer monitors and other electronic devices. Today, 20 states have active e-waste landfill bans in place.

For instance, Illinois, a state that enacted its landfill ban in 2012, bans most electronic devices, including computer monitors from both landfills and incinerators. An incinerator ban on electronics is significant, because electronics contain a number of chemicals that are not harmful until heated. Heating can release toxic gases into the atmosphere. Few other states ban both these types of disposals.

Other states have laws that specifically address computer monitor disposal

Some states have laws in place beyond the basic landfill ban. In Maryland and Connecticut, laws are in place that require manufacturers to label those electronic devices that contain mercury. Such labeling laws aim to identify electronics containing hazardous wastes, thus increasing the likelihood that these will be disposed properly.

In most states, about half of the country to be exact, laws concerning e-waste place responsibility on producers and manufacturers of electronic devices to ensure proper disposal.

Manufacturers are required to work with recycling centers and state or municipal programs to ensure that e-waste is properly recycled. In some instances, the responsibility also includes regulating the way a device is made. Such requirements urge manufacturers to consider available alternatives to the hazardous chemicals and structural materials traditionally found in computer monitors and other electronic devices.

How to dispose your computer monitor properly

Due to the environmental hazards and legal issues involved, consumers must keep informed about the most suitable and safe way to dispose of computer monitors. Here is where it is important to know the collection methods in your city or neighborhood and to make sure to keep informed about the requirements at your local recycling center.

Excellent resources for more information about proper disposal in your area can be found at your local chamber of commerce, city hall or community center. Because each community may vary in its response to the need for proper collection and disposal of computer monitors, it is important to inquire first, before disposal, to get the details you will need.

Tossing your old monitor needn’t be hazardous or illegal

The best way to ensure that tossing your old computer monitor is neither hazardous nor illegal is to find a electronics recycling service capable of properly handling electronic devices. The recycler can help with collecting and recycling the device in a way that both complies with state and federal guidelines and protects the environment.