E-waste Laws Make Everyone Recycle

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Lights and festive décor still adorn houses, opened presents still have their "new gift" tags, small, discarded wrappings are in the trash, and hosts of bloated trash cans line the alley ways: the holidays are almost gone. But if any of those trashcans contains electronics, law enforcement officials might soon show up.

With the popularity of high-tech gifts, concerns about pollution and the growing amount of American waste all at a high, legislation around the country is mandating that consumers recycle rather than dump certain electronics.

Dubbed e-waste, electronics in landfills can leak toxins, including arsenic and lead, which eventually leach  into the soil and water supply. Some estimates say that nearly 70 percent of used computers and monitors in the United States will end up in landfills. Not only does this pollute, but it also means that precious metals like gold and silver are not recovered. As reporter Chris Carroll describes in his article High-Tech Trash, recycling gold from computers “is far more efficient and less environmentally destructive than ripping it from the earth.”

According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, 65 percent of Americans are now affected by e-waste laws, which usually mandate that either the manufacturer provides recycling programs or prohibits what the consumer is allowed to throw out with the trash. On the coalition's website, you can see a breakdown of the legislation that has been passed state by state.

Some of these laws have been put into place right in time for the holidays. Before Thanksgiving leftovers were gone, Pennsylvania set statewide guidelines for producers and consumers of electronics about recycling and landfill use. New Jersey and Indiana both have laws going into effect on New Year's Day to ensure e-waste is taken care of safely. And, though the start of the program will have missed the busiest consumer season, New York also recently announced that beginning in April, residents will be able to recycle their old electronics for free.

Conscientious citizens still have plenty of ways to take on e-waste disposal themselves. For a thorough list of where to recycle electronics, check out this New York Times article about Christmas Cleanup. Some places will even give cash back for goods. Perfect for saving up to get an iPad or the new Droid.

Photo: Getty Images/Paul Viant