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2009 July 9

On Sunday night, I saw a computer monitor that had been left near the curb next to the trash cans four houses down from mine. My first thought was that some people are not really aware of the significant damage they cause the environment by tossing electronics along with their trash. I really hoped somebody would pick up this cast-off soon. Unfortunately, on Monday morning, my husband called me to say that he had seen municipal workers literally throwing a computer monitor into a public works pick up truck. The monitor broke into pieces as it landed in the truck’s bed. He was extremely worried about the harmful substances that would leak into the ground along with the regular trash once the monitor was disposed of in the landfill.

Obsolescence, development of new technologies and massive marketing campaigns that make people want to buy the latest models result in a fast-growing surplus of discarded electronic equipment around the world. Electronic equipment has revolutionized the way we communicate, but most of these items contain serious contaminants such as lead, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants that need to be carefully disposed of.

Many states have “diversion from landfill” legislation that requires electronic equipment to be collected and processed separately form garbage. In April 2000, Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to make it illegal to dispose of CRT (cathode ray tubes) in landfills. In Europe, these regulations and bans date to the 1990’s. As of 2008, 17 states in the U.S. had enacted responsibility laws and 35 states were considering electronic recycling laws. Earlier this year, the state of Washington passed legislation requiring manufacturers of electronic goods to pay for recycling and establishing a statewide network of collection points.

EPA has been working to educate consumers on reuse and safe recycling of electronics. This past Earth Day, two bills were passed by the House of Representatives to require EPA to give merit-based grants to universities, government labs and private industries to conduct research on the development of new approaches that would improve recycling and reduction of hazardous materials in electronic devices.

In our household, we throw out our unwanted electronics during an e-cycling drive. Last year, the local Engineers and Surveyors Association held a multi-city e-waste drive during which I not only disposed of an old computer monitor and fax, but also an old TV from my parent’s house. However, there are other options like donating the equipment for refurbishment and resale. The two latter are more common with cellular phones. All of them are much better than throwing electronics into the trash.

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    July 9, 2009

    I’m sure most people are aware of the harm computers and electronics can cause the environment. There are always going to be people who just don’t care and toss them out with the trash regardless. That is unfortunate. I must say though, someone like Brenda, who is aware of the harm a computer monitor can do to the environment and does seem to care, didn’t take it upon herself to pick up the monitor and take it to a safe disposal site. Working at the EPA, I’m sure she knows of a few. Anyone that recycles or advocates for the environment knows that some of us have to be proactive and sometimes pick up the slack for others. Why didn’t she do that instead of writing a blog post and condeming…

  2. Bob permalink
    July 9, 2009

    Since the author, nor her husband picked up the monitor to dispose of it properly, maybe this tells us something …

    I’m really sorry that Brenda did not take it upon herself to educate her neighbors and/or at the least, picked up the harmful debris and stored it at her home until their next e-cyling drive.

  3. rod permalink
    July 9, 2009

    County and city disposal sites have signs saying “no CRT monitors”. Yet they have no place to accept them either, so the poor guy taking the trash will simply dump the monitor into the bushes (as he drives back to town).

    I agree with the other poster, unfortunately we have to take up the slack for the slackers. I have and will continue to stop and pick up trash that others just don’t have the time to dispose of. If I see 50 gallons of chemicals, I call the fire department. And I have seen that, drums of paint dumped in the hills. It’s sad state of affairs.

  4. Alice permalink
    July 9, 2009

    Ashley is absolutely right. I do know we have had a couple of monitors that we wanted to get rid of, so we parked it outside of the front of our house on the sidewalk for anyone who wanted it. The trash pick up is in the back. Both were taken. Maybe someone could use it, but those not picked up in a couple of days, we take to the Salvation Army, since, if no one buys it from them, they have them taken to a safe disposal spot. I always feel this way I have given it a couple of chances at a new life first. I think most people who use computers do know the consequence of just throwing them out!

  5. Aileen permalink
    July 9, 2009

    As with most of environment issues we are facing, ignorance and awareness are what we need to focus on. It’s very sad to see these things are happening..

  6. Joan permalink
    July 9, 2009

    Poor Brenda! If she stopped to pick up everyone else’s electronics and computer monitors on trash day, as some have suggested above, she might as well start a route and plan on doing it every week. That’s just not a productive solution.
    Better would be if the trash company could print out a little brochure explaining about e-cycling and leave it for homeowners who are not disposing of these items properly.

  7. Johnny R. permalink
    July 9, 2009

    Where I live, a recycling station that handles computers is 90 miles away and would cost me $200. So my crashed comuter sits here waiting for human society to wake up and institute 100% recycling of all waste and garbage, which I may not live to see. On the other hand, I’ve heard there is a thriving racket to retrieve discarded computer discs to misuse the information.

  8. Amrita permalink
    July 10, 2009

    Hi !

    Yes..People just can’t chuck an old computer in the garbage can and move on. Computers, like many electronics, contain heavy metals that pose environmental hazards when disposed of improperly.

    You can ask around to see if any of your friends are looking for an older computer. You can also donate it to the nonprofit Computer Recycling Center. They accept all computers, network equipment, and telephones. In addition, they will provide you with a receipt of your donation for a tax deduction.

    With Regards

  9. Johnny R. permalink
    July 11, 2009

    Please list the addresses and phone numbers of any such computer recycling centers. Thankyou.

  10. cheap computers permalink
    July 14, 2009

    I always feel this way I have given it a couple of chances at a new life first. I think most people who use computers do know the consequence of just throwing them out!

  11. Carol permalink
    July 14, 2009

    Sounds like the worker needed the education, too. After all, he did throw it into his truck.

  12. Carol permalink
    July 14, 2009

    I have at least one computer and one television waiting to go to the city pick up.

    At least the library in the next town over is taking used batteries, but only AA, AAA, C and D. What am I to do with my buttons? It seems like we are inventing new kinds of trash faster than we are inventing ways to collect them.

    You might find the book Cradle to Cradle interesting. The authors have suggestions on how materials could be treated, if we chose.

  13. Theresa permalink
    August 21, 2009

    This is exactly what this company does – ecycling of computers & cell phones. They are currently doing a cell phone drive. Anyone interested in taking action with regards to ewaste may be very interested in what these folks are doing. Spread the word!!!

  14. Mainframeguy permalink
    March 30, 2010

    Over here in Europe it would be illegal to leave the computer or monitor by the trash and also illegal to throw it in the trash on collection day.

    I work at a small non-profit charity striving for re-use of IT equipment. I wonder when the USA will realise this sort of thing has to be made a legal obligation and not just a civic one?

  15. Cimahost permalink
    September 19, 2010

    I find that it is responsible for govt to help educate people about our environment and I hope people can find some useful tips on software and hardware that can help too

  16. Kirsty permalink
    September 26, 2010

    Mainframeguy thats a wonderful charity, I think too many computers get needlessly trashed when they could be reused and kept out of landfills! I am doing much the same thing with drums and musical instruments – Theres something about throwing away perfectly good items that really makes my blood boil :(

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