Get a new flat-screen TV for Christmas and wondering what to do with the old console? Finally replacing that turntable with an MP3 player? Just upgrading your Mac? Whatever it is, you'd better check your state's books before heading to the landfill.
As the new year begins, Vermont is joining New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina in instituting laws banning electronic waste from landfills, bringing to 24 the number of states with similar measures, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a San Francisco-based group that monitors the fate of "e-waste."
"I think it's a good idea," said Kevin Wilkinson, a Montpelier resident and self-described "geek wannabe" with a lot of old computer hardware sitting around his house. "There's a lot of heavy metals in the circuit boards and whatnot. It's good to keep that stuff out of the landfills."
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2007 that the U.S. generates about 2 million tons a year of e-waste, which can contain lead, mercury, cadmium and other potentially harmful chemicals. If those toxins leach from landfills into the environment, risks to human health can include cancer and nervous system damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In states without recycling laws, consumers like Wilkinson are left to safely dispose of old equipment on their own, generally by paying a few dollars per item at a computer store or by going to big-box retailers that sponsor programs to take old items.