By Sophia Bennett July 2, 2015
Let’s face it: We humans are more inclined to do things if we’re offered an incentive. We know it’s wrong to put broken computers, printers, televisions and other electronic items in the trash. But if time is short and ways to recycle them are scarce or non-existent, it’s hard to avoid taking the easy way out.
That’s why so many states have enacted laws that ban electronic waste from landfills and incinerators, and provide alternative programs through which consumers can safely recycle their unwanted electronic goods. In the past 12 years, a total of 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed e-waste recycling laws.
Of course, that leaves 22 states that have no requirement to recycle electronic goods. Is your state one of them? We provide a quick round-up of states that have and do not have e-waste recycling laws.
States with e-waste recycling laws: The early years…
Not surprisingly, California was the first state to pass an e-waste law. The county’s most populous state also tends to take the lead on progressive issues such as this one, so it was no surprise that it was an early leader in e-waste recycling.
The Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003
set up a system to fund recycling services for electronic items. It allowed retailers to collect fees at points of sale to pay for recycling of items, as well as prohibited certain chemicals from being included in electronic devices.
The next state to pass such a law was about as far from California as you can get – geographically speaking. In 2004, Maine passed a law requiring TV and computer monitor manufacturers to divert these items from landfills and pay for their disposal. The law has since been greatly expanded
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, a very active environmental organization that had already supported legislation to force car-makers to pay for removal of mercury switches and championed climate change legislation, took the lead on ensuring the bill was approved.
Asking manufacturers to pay for the disposal of products they make is known as extended producer responsibility (EPR). This policy has become increasingly popular in recent years and has also been adapted for recycling other products, including paint, batteries and mattresses.
Both Maryland and Washington State asked manufacturers to take responsibility for their own products when they passed e-waste recycling laws in the intervening years. Washington went the extra mile and said it would look for ways to encourage companies to use fewer toxic materials and more recyclable products in their electronics.
States that passed e-waste recycling laws in later years
2007 was a very successful year for e-waste laws. Texas began a computer take-back program. Minnesota, Oregon, Connecticut and North Carolina put broader e-waste laws on the books.
Yet 2008 proved even bigger. Nine states – Rhode Island, Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia, Missouri, New Jersey and West Virginia – passed some kind of e-waste law. Michigan and Hawaii are among the states that require manufacturers to register and pay an annual fee in order to sell their products in the state. That’s in addition to setting up programs to recycle the items they make.
In 2009, Wisconsin and Indiana joined the ranks of states with an e-waste law. Both states set some kind of recycling target. Wisconsin hoped to recycle 80 percent of the weight of the e-waste sold during the previous three years. In Indiana, manufacturers need to recycle 60 percent of the volume of materials they produce each year. If they don’t, they pay an extra recycling fee.
Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina joined the pack of states with e-waste recycling laws in 2010. New York City actually passed an e-waste law in 2008 and was the first major city to set up its own e-waste collection program and ban electronics from garbage cans.
Colorado is the latest state to pass an e-waste law. On Earth Day 2012, Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill banning certain electronics from local landfills. The District of Columbia instituted its own e-waste law in 2014.
It’s worth noting that Utah has taken a different approach to e-waste than all the other states. Rather than asking manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling their waste, these companies must educate consumers about where they can recycle unwanted electronics. The law passed the state legislature in 2011.
States that do not have e-waste recycling laws
That leaves 22 states without an e-waste recycling law: Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming. Several of them have considered bills, but they’ve never been able to get one to pass.
The Massachusetts legislature introduced a bill to require EPR for electronics in 2015. It was referred to a committee and never reemerged. No other legislatures appear to be considering new e-waste laws in 2015, and none are slated to discuss them in 2016. States with e-waste laws are constantly updating them. If you live in a state that already has an e-waste law, you can follow any proposed changes through a local advocacy organization or by contacting your legislator.
Of course, even if a state doesn’t have an e-waste recycling law, people can still recycle electronic devices. Many of these states provide collection centers where people can take televisions, computers, video games, CD and DVD players, batteries and other materials. In many places, government and private groups do regular e-waste collection events to round up any hazardous materials people want to keep out of local landfills and incinerators.
But until these states act to ban electronics from landfills and provide a reasonable (and reasonably priced) collection program, we know much of the country’s e-waste will continue to end up in the trash. We encourage local legislatures to learn more about the benefits of e-waste recycling and consider what they can do to encourage these valuable resources to be recycled and reused.