Electronic waste in the United States

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Computer monitors being packed for shipping

Electronic waste in the United States is being addressed with regulations at a state and federal level.



The United States Congress considers a number of electronic waste bills, including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). Meanwhile, the main federal law governing solid waste is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. It covers only CRTs, though state regulations may differ.[1] There are also separate laws concerning battery disposal. Several trade organizations including the Consumer Electronics Association are lobbying for the implementation of comprehensive federal laws.[2] On March 25, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee approved funding for research on reducing electronic waste and mitigating environmental impact, regarded by sponsor Ralph Hall (R-TX) as the first federal bill to address electronic waste directly.[3] On July 6, 2009, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) proposed the "Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act".[4] Bill S.1397 not only focuses on stopping illegal e-waste dumping, but it also calls for sustainable design of electronic equipment as well as offers funding for research and development of more sustainable designs, which would reduce the amount of toxic waste and increase the reuse and recycling of electronic products.[5]

During Earth Day, April 22, 2009, two bills were passed by the House of Representatives: H.R. 1580 Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act, introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon on March 18, 2009,[6] and H.R. 957 Green Energy Education Act, introduced by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX.)[7] H.R. 1580 requires the Administration of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to give merit-based grants to consortia of universities, government labs and private industries to conduct research with the purpose of finding new approaches to recycling and reduction of hazardous materials in electronic devices and to "contribute to the professional development of scientists, engineers, and technicians in the field of electronic device manufacturing, design, refurnishing, and recycling."[8] The bill will require the recipients of the grants to report every two years to Congress about the progress of their research, gaps in the advancement, risks and regulatory barriers that might hinder their progress.[9] The Congressional Budget Office estimates that to put the bill in effect "would cost $10 million in 2010 and $80 million over the 2010-2014 period."[10] The other billed passed, H.R. 957, authorizes the Department of Energy in partnership with the National Science Foundation to provide grants to Institutions of higher education to promote education and training for Engineers and Architects "in high energy and high-performance building design." [8]


A policy of "diversion from landfill" has driven legislation in many states requiring higher and higher volumes of electronic waste to be collected and processed separate from the solid waste stream.

In 2001, Arkansas enacted the Arkansas Computer and Electronic Solid Waste Management Act, which requires that state agencies manage and sell surplus computer equipment, establishes a computer and electronics recycling fund, and authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to regulate and/or ban the disposal of computer and electronic equipment in Arkansas landfills.[11]

California was the first state to legislate around the issue of e-waste. It implemented a broader waste ban, with advance recovery fee funding in 2003. Electronic waste in California may neither be disposed of in a landfill nor be exported overseas.[12] The 2003 Electronic Waste Recycling Act in California introduced an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee on all new monitors and televisions sold to cover the cost of recycling. The fee ranges from six to ten dollars.[12] California went from only a handful of recyclers to over 60 within the state and over 600 collection sites. The amount of the fee depends on the size of the monitor; it was adjusted on July 1, 2005 in order to match the real cost of recycling.[13] Cellphones are "considered hazardous waste" in California; many chemicals in cellphones leach from landfills into the groundwater system.[14]

Colorado legislation requires education programs that address its electronic waste problem.[15]

In 2004, Maine passed Maine Public Law 661, An Act to Protect Public Health and the Environment by Providing for a System of Shared Responsibility for the Safe Collection and Recycling of Electronic Waste. It necessitates that after 2006, computer manufacturers take responsibility for handling and recycling computer monitors, and pay the handling costs as well.[16]

Massachusetts was the first of the United States to make it illegal to dispose of CRTs in landfills in April 2000, most similar to the European disposal bans of the 1990s.

Minnesota enacted a law making vendors responsible for the disposal of their branded electronics.[2] Minnesota legislation also outlaws the dumping of cathode ray tubes in landfills.[15][17]

A law in the state of Washington took effect on January 1, 2009, requiring manufacturers of electronic goods to pay for recycling, and establishing a statewide network of collection points. The program, called E-Cycle Washington, is managed by the Department of Ecology and the Washington Materials Management & Financing Authority.[18]

On January 28, 2010, Arizona introduced HB 2614, a producer responsibility law modeled on the Oregon law that would have covered computers, laptops and TV monitors for recycling. However, it was withdrawn on February 15, 2010.[19]

As of 2008, 17 states have producer responsibility laws in some form.[20] In all, 35 states have or are considering electronic waste recycling laws.[15]

Location Date signed into law Legislation
Arkansas 2003 Arkansas Computer and Electronic Solid Waste Management Act[11]
California 2003 California Electronic Waste Recycling Act[21]
Cell Phone Takeback and Recycling
Rechargeable Battery Takeback and Recycling[21]
Colorado July 2007 National Computer Recycling Act[21]
Cell Phone Takeback and Recycling
Rechargeable Battery Takeback and Recycling[21]
Connecticut July 2007 CT Electronic Recycling Law[21]
Hawaii July 2008 Hawaii Electronic Device Recycling Program[21]
Illinois September 2008 Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act[21]
Indiana May 2009 Amendment to Indiana environmental law[21]
Maine 2004 §1610. Electronic waste[21]
An Act To Protect Public Health and the Environment by Providing for a System of Shared Responsibility for the Safe Collection and Recycling of Electronic Waste[21]
Maryland 2005 Maryland's Statewide Electronics Recycling Program[21]
Michigan May 2007 SB No. 897[21]
Minnesota December 2008 Minnesota’s Electronics Recycling Act[21]
Missouri June 2008 Manufacturer Responsibility and Consumer Convenience Equipment Collection and Recovery Act[21]
New Jersey December 2008 Act No. 394[21]
New York State 28 May 2010 Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act (effective from 1 April 2011)[22]
New York City April 2008, vetoed
overrode by council
May 2008
INT 728[21]
INT 729[21]
North Carolina August 2007
amended to add TVs
August 2008
S1492 (2007)[21]
H819 (2008 Amendment)[21]
Oklahoma May 2008 Oklahoma Computer Equipment Recovery Act[21]
Oregon June 2007 House Bill 2626[21]
Pennsylvania November 2010 PA Covered Device Recycling Act [23]
Rhode Island June 2008 Electronic Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling Act[21]
Texas June 2007 House Bill 2714[21]
Virginia March 2008 Computer Recovery and Recycling Act.[24]
Washington March 2006 SB 6428[24]
West Virginia March 2008 SB 746[24]
Wisconsin October 2009 SB 107[25]

Consumer recycling[edit]

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) it is important to dispose of electronics via recycling because,"Electronic products are made from valuable resources and materials, including metals, plastics, and glass, all of which require energy to mine and manufacture. Donating or recycling consumer electronics conserves our natural resources and avoids air and water pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions that are caused by manufacturing virgin materials." [26] Consumer recycling options include donating equipment directly to organizations in need, sending devices directly back to their original manufacturers, or getting components to a convenient recycler or refurbisher.[27]


Consumer recycling includes a variety of donation options, such as charities which may offer tax benefits. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of electronic recycling and donation options for American consumers.[28] The National Cristina Foundation, TechSoup (the Donate Hardware List), the Computer Takeback Campaign, and the National Technology Recycling Project provide resources for recycling.[27][29] However, local recycling sites that do not process waste products on site, and consumers that throw electronics in the trash, still contribute to electronic waste.


Individuals looking for environmentally friendly ways in which to dispose of electronics can find corporate electronic takeback and recycling programs across the country.[30] Corporations nationwide have begun to offer low-cost to no-cost recycling, open to the public in most cases, and have opened centers nationally and in some cases internationally. Such programs frequently offer services to take back and recycle electronics, including mobile phones, laptop and desktop computers, digital cameras, and home and auto electronics. Companies such as Staples,[31] Toshiba,[32] and Gateway[33] offer takeback programs that provide monetary incentives for recyclable and/or working technologies. The Manufacturers Recycling Management Co. was founded by Panasonic, Sharp Corporation, and Toshiba to manage electronic waste branded by these manufacturers, including 750 tons of TVs, computers, audio equipment, faxes, and components in its first four months.[2] Office Depot lets customers obtain "tech recycling" boxes for e-waste if not eligible for the EcoNEW tech trade-in program.[34] Best Buy offers a similar program for products which were purchased at Best Buy.[35] Exceptions exist in some states, which allow for the trade-in of electronics which were not purchased at Best Buy.

Though helpful to both the environment and its citizens, there are some downsides to such programs. Many corporations offer services for a variety of electronic items, while their recycling centers are few in number. Recycling centers and takeback programs are available in many parts of the country, but the type and amount of equipment to be recycled tends to be limited. Some corporations, like Sony in its Take Back Recycling Program, provide recycling incentives but only accept up to five recycled items per day and only if they are that corporation's products.[36] Sony also partners with the Waste Management Inc. Recycle America program and offers discounts and tradeup programs.[37] Costco, which offers free shipping and handling for all recycled pieces of equipment, will only allow Costco club members to participate in their programs.[38] Crutchfield Electronics offers its own gift cards in exchange for electronic waste, through Consumer Electronics Exchange.[39] Hewlett-Packard has recycled over 750 million pounds of electronic waste globally, including hardware and print cartridges.[40]


Various organizations actively lobby government in order to address electronic waste issues. The major organizations are the Basel Action Network and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.


Free Geek is a collectively run, non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon. It aims to reuse or recycle used computer equipment that might otherwise become hazardous waste, and to make computer technology more accessible to those who lack financial means or technical knowledge. Nonprofit Technology Resources in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has a similar mission. Also, New Neighborhood Development, Inc. is a recently started non-profit organization in Illinois, providing free electronic recycling to bring awareness to e-waste hazards.

NextWorth, Gazelle, are two of the largest and best-known organizations that buy and resell used cell phones.[41][42]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Final Rules on Cathode Ray Tubes and Discarded Mercury-Containing Equipment". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 
  2. ^ a b c Wenzel, Elsa (2008-01-07). "Panasonic, Sharp, and Toshiba launch tech recycling company". Green Tech. CNET News. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  3. ^ "House Panel Approves Bill to Aid Disposal of Unwanted Electronics". Congressional Quarterly. 2009-03-25. Archived from the original on 2009-03-30. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  4. ^ Heimbuch, Jaymi (3 November 2009), "U.S. Senate Considering Bill to Slow the Impacts of e-Waste", TreeHugger.com, Discovery Communications, LLC, retrieved 5 November 2009 
  5. ^ Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act of 2009, S. 1397, 111th Cong. (2009)
  6. ^ "H.R. 1580: Electronic Waste Research and Development Act". Legislative Digest. Archived from the original on 2009-05-28. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  7. ^ "Environmental Bills". Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Archived from the original on 2009-05-28. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  8. ^ a b "On Earth Day, House Passes Two Important Environmental Bills". Joe Sestak. 2009-05-22. Archived from the original on May 15, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  9. ^ "House Report 111-075 - Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  10. ^ "Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate" (PDF). Congressional Budget Office. 2009-03-30. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  11. ^ a b "Arkansas Computer and Electronic Solid Waste Management Act" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-02-14. 
  12. ^ a b Royte, Elizabeth (2005-08-01). "E-gad! Americans discard more than 100 million computers, cellphones and other electronic devices each year. As "e-waste" piles up, so does concern about this growing threat to the environment.". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  13. ^ Anderson, Nate (2006). "California to electronics industry: No toxins for you!". Retrieved 2006-11-13. 
  14. ^ Judkis, Maura (2008-07-30). "4 Ways to Earn Cash for Recycling". Fresh Greens. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  15. ^ a b c "Law holds businesses responsible for disposal of computers". 
  16. ^ "Public Laws of 2003 as Passed at 2nd Special Sess. of 121st Legislature". 
  17. ^ Dean, Katie (2003-06-25). "Bill Aims to Cut Computer Clutter". Wired Magazine. Archived from the original on 2009-07-29. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  18. ^ Dornfeld, Ann (2009-02-02). "E-Waste Law: Manufacturers Pay For Recycling". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  19. ^ "AZ HB 2614". [permanent dead link]
  20. ^ "State legislation map". Archived from the original on 2009-03-06. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Electronics Take Back Coalition. "State legislation map". Retrieved 2009-05-27. 
  22. ^ "The Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act". New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Retrieved 1 April 2011. 
  23. ^ http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/US/HTM/2010/0/0108..HTM
  24. ^ a b c Californians Against Waste. "E-waste laws in other states". Archived from the original on 2008-12-11. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  25. ^ WiscPolitics.com, "Sen. Miller: Gov. Doyle Signs Senate Bill 107 into Law", October 23, 2009. Available: http://www.wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=174605.
  26. ^ EPA,OSWER,ORCR,PMCAO, US. "Electronics Donation and Recycling". www.epa.gov. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  27. ^ a b "Kroll Ontrack Offers Advice for Properly Recycling Your Electronic Devices: With the Rise in Popularity of Electronic Device Recycling, Leading Data Recovery Provider Offers Tips for Protecting Valuable Business and Personal Data While Responsibly Disposing of Old Electronics". Business Wire. 2007-08-21. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  28. ^ "Donate". 
  29. ^ "Recycling Basics for the Home". 
  30. ^ LaMonica, Martin (2008-07-28). "Got a gadget gathering dust?". Green Tech. CNET News. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  31. ^ "Staples Soul: Recycling". 
  32. ^ "Toshiba Trade-in Center". Archived from the original on 2010-02-26. 
  33. ^ "Gateway Trade-in Center". Archived from the original on 2010-03-23. 
  34. ^ "Tech Recycling Services". Office Depot. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  35. ^ "Best Buy Electronics Trade-In". Best Buy. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  36. ^ "Sony Index". Archived from the original on 2008-05-27. 
  37. ^ "Take Back Recycling Program". 
  38. ^ "Costco Trade-In and Recycle Program". Archived from the original on 2008-07-23. 
  39. ^ Albanesius, Chloe (2008-07-28). "Gazelle Will Give You Cash for Your Gadgets". News and Analysis. PC Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-05. 
  40. ^ Morgan, Russell (2006-08-21). "Tips and Tricks for Recycling Old Computers". SmartBiz. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  41. ^ Dominguez, Robert (September 11, 2012). "Get the most for your iPhone 4s - before the new one drops". New York Daily News. Retrieved August 13, 2013. 
  42. ^ Fottrell, Quentin (October 24, 2012). "iPad resales surge over 700%". MarketWatch. Retrieved August 13, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • EPA - computer donation locations
  • EPA - ECycling