Picking up on electronics waste

Electronics are posing a threat to landfills, and recycling programs are slow to catch up.

The information age has been a boon for the spread of knowledge. It has also been marked by excessive waste. Given the rapid rate of technological advancement, new equipment is constantly being eclipsed by the next generation of innovation, and our landfills are becoming cluttered with the potentially harmful remnants of electronics.

The enormous amount of waste this technological phenomenon has generated is somewhat disconcerting, but the real danger lies inside our computers and televisions. Significant amounts of lead and other heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and chromium are present inside countless electronics. Computer monitors and TVs contain an average of four pounds of lead, and the EPA estimates that between 2000 and 2007 over 500 million computers were disposed of. To make matters worse, all television broadcast signals will be switching to digital in early 2009. This move will render older sets unusable and contribute to the growing problem.

As of last summer, Minnesota banned electronics from its landfills. The rules now vary from county to county, but the burden of recycling electronics often falls on individuals. People are expected to take the appropriate steps and pay the necessary fees to have their waste recycled. While this represents a good beginning, compliance has been less than superb. Illegal dumping and abandonment of electronics has occurred as citizens attempt to avoid paying the recycling fees.

Minnesota lawmakers need to take action during this session to make the recycling process easier. Banning electronics from landfills was a smart decision, but there needs to be more involvement by the government. A statewide initiative needs to be adopted to ensure that hazardous electronic waste is properly disposed of.

When TVs switch to digital signals in 2009, it is sure to compound the amount of electronic waste being dumped. Legislators need to act this year to ensure that all electronic waste is processed properly in the future, because our technological advancement shows no signs of slowing.