Electronic waste (e-waste for short) is all of the used electronics that are no longer needed or have aged out. At that point, the items like laptops, printers, cellphones, digital cameras, and tablets end up in storage, the trash, a recycling center, or are donated to someone else.
What Are the Current Regulations in the U.S.?
E-waste contains everything from glass and plastic to metals that include lead, copper, silver, gold, etc. They can contain mercury, cadmium, and nickel. When disposed of in a landfill, it takes decades, but they’re released into the leachate that’s produced as trash breaks down. It’s unknown exactly how long protective barriers will last in a landfill, so centuries from now, lead, mercury, etc. could end up leaking into groundwater and poisoning people and animals.
To protect against this, proper recycling of e-waste is essential. Yet, states are still very slow to respond with laws designed to protect communities.
Only half of the states in the U.S. have e-waste legislation in place.
- California – Enacted in 2003
- Maine – Enacted in 2004
- Maryland – Enacted in 2005
- Washington – Enacted in 2006
- Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas – Enacted in 2007
- Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia – Enacted in 2008
- Indiana and Wisconsin – Enacted in 2009
- New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Vermont – Enacted in 2010
- Utah – Enacted in 2011
- Washington D.C – Enacted in 2014
Most states use a Producer Responsibility approach, meaning the companies that produce electronics must pay for the recycling of the items they sell within that state. This often involves take-back programs where consumers can print out a shipping label online and send their devices back to the manufacturer for proper recycling. Some stores like Best Buy and Staples accept e-waste for recycling. Home Depot and Lowes have battery recycling drop-offs.
California uses an Advanced Recovery Fee system. Consumers pay a fee when they purchase electronics, and that fee goes into a fund that’s used for e-waste recycling. Utah uses a Manufacturer Operated Program system where the manufacturers of electronics create their own programs from a list of three options: Collection, Drop-Off Sites, or Mailback Programs.
Those are laws that push recycling as the only viable option. But, what about laws that keep consumers and businesses from throwing out electronics into their trash?
Close to half of the states or districts in the U.S. have express bans that keep e-waste out of landfills. This makes it too easy for people to throw their electronics in the trash, even though that’s bad for waste and recycling haulers and the environment. States that ban landfill disposable include:
- Arkansas – Began in January 2010 and doesn’t specifically list what electronics are banned from landfills.
- California – Began in February 2006 and bans electronics and some appliances from landfills.
- Colorado – Began in July 2013 and bans computers, video displays, monitors, TVs, printers, and computer peripherals from landfills.
- Connecticut – Began in January 2009 and bans computers, monitors, TVs, printers, and electronic components from landfills and incinerators.
- Illinois – Began in January 2012 and bans all electronic devices from landfills and incinerators.
- Indiana – The date it began is unclear, but all electronics are banned from landfills and incinerators.
- Maine – Began in July 2006 and bans CRTs and electronics containing mercury from landfills.
- Massachusetts – Began in April 2000 and bans CRTs from landfills and incinerators.
- Minnesota – Began in July 2006 and bans all electronics containing CRTs from landfills.
- New Hampshire – Began in July 2007 and bans TVs and computer monitors from landfills and incinerators.
- New Jersey – Began in July 2011 and bans all electronics, including TVs with a screen larger than four inches, and electronic components from landfills and incinerators.
- New York – Began in April 2011 and bans all electronics, minus small appliances, from landfills and incinerators.
- North Carolina – Began in July 2011 and bans computers, monitors, printing devices, and TVs from landfills and incinerators.
- Oregon – Began in 2010 and bans computers, monitors, and TVs from landfills.
- Pennsylvania – Began in 2013 and bans computers, printers, computer peripherals, monitors, TVs, and the components used to build them from landfills.
- Rhode Island – Began in 2009 and bans computers, tablets/notebooks/TVs with a screen larger than nine inches, monitors, and the components used to build them from landfills.
- South Carolina – Began in 2011 and bans computers, monitors, printers, and TVs from landfills.
- Vermont – Began in 2011 and bans all electronic devices (including answering machines, phones, VCRs, stereo systems, and DVD players) and power supply cords from landfills.
- Washington D.C. – Began in 2018 and bans computers, e-readers, monitors, TVs, computer peripherals, VCRs, DVD players, and MP3 players from landfills.
- Wisconsin – Began in 2010 and bans computers, video display phones, monitors, VCRs, DVD players, and similar electronics from landfills.
Several other states, including Nebraska, tried to pass laws prohibiting e-waste disposal in the trash but were unsuccessful. Even if those laws passed the Legislature, which is the case in Nebraska, they were vetoed by the governor.
Laws Continue to Change and Improve
Improvements to existing laws are always in the works. Here are a few of the recent laws that passed or are in negotiations.
California – Governor Newsom signed two laws into effect in 2022. The Responsible Battery Act of 2022 establishes an extended producer responsibility plan that covers all battery types and products with embedded batteries.
New York – In 2023, New York’s law updates made it a requirement for manufacturers to provide free collection of used electronics. It used to be that consumers were charged a recycling fee for items like TVs or holiday lights, but now recycling facilities must provide recycling free of charge.
In Europe, the EU passed a rule that is annoying some major manufacturers, but it’s going to make life much easier for consumers. Instead of different devices requiring different charging cables, everything has to use a universal charging port with USB-C. This will eliminate the need to have dozens of different charging cables in your home and car.
Consider Your E-Waste
If you own a business or are a consumer in one of those states, you cannot throw e-waste away. That often includes small appliances like toasters, coffee makers, etc. If you live in a state with no e-waste laws. That doesn’t mean you should toss things out. Consider the environment and learn how to dispose of things properly by arranging for ITAD services for your business electronics or bringing them to an e-waste recycler.
For consumers who have been stockpiling old electronics in a basement, attic, garage, or shed, look at services like Best Buy offers where you pay a set fee and all of your small electronics and two large appliances or major electronics are removed at once. You could get rid of your bulky desktop from the 1990s that’s been sitting around and all of the printers, laptops, mice, keyboards, e-readers, tablets, cellphones, charging cables, etc. that have amassed over the decades.
You can also purchase large boxes or pallets from ERI and have the company haul away your used electronics for processing in the nearest ERI facility. Your electronics will be recycled properly and never shipped overseas for processing. This eliminates the risk of data theft and improper recycling routines that harm the environment.