New Bern, NC – A law passed last year in the General Assembly will ban the disposal of old TVs or computer equipment all the way down to the mouse in state landfills effective July 1.
"Those bans have been designed to divert materials that are problematic from an environmental standpoint or that have some material value that we want to return to the economy or some combination of those two things and that's really true with computer equipment and televisions."
Scott Mouw, North Carolina's state recycling program director. Part of the ban is to ensure that, for example, heavy metals used in the production of these items stay out of landfills.
"In using these products we're not exposed to anything harmful. Over time what we really don't want to do is keep adding things to landfills that 40, 50, 60 years down the line could be problematic even for landfills that are lined and have measures that protect the groundwater. Just a good idea if we can take those same materials and capture them, process them, use the metals back into other applications that's a better long-term solution than letting them sit in a hole in the ground and maybe someday causing a problem with groundwater."
And there are materials in TVs and computers that have value enough value that there is a small but growing industry in the state to reclaim the value from these items in order to re-use them perhaps in that new laptop you're eyeing to replace the old desktop that's heading out the door.
"We're really fortunate in North Carolina to have over a dozen electronics recycling companies in the state. Some of them are pretty sizable companies that have a national presence and they employ over 300 North Carolinians. They've invested over 50 million dollars in plants and equipment to handle this material so it's really a nice little growing industry that we would want to encourage to continue to grow through giving them more material."
The law is set up so hopefully there's little financial burden on counties as they set up collection points, though Scott Mouw says there's no requirement for counties to do so. However they've set up incentives to spur those collection points. Computer manufacturers are required to pay the state a registration fee. That money is being pooled and then distributed to counties to pay for the collection point set up. From that point for the county it's hopefully at worst a zero-sum financial game.
"So for example Pitt County or Craven County would gather these materials in, create a load of these materials then hand them off to a processor who won't charge them anything but probably won't pay them anything either and then they just try to extract as much value as they can from that load."
As for the individual citizen, Mouw says they shouldn't be "directly affected" by the change in the law other than having to find your local drop-off point. Some counties have multiple drop-off points for example, Pitt County has six sites spread out in Ayden, Bethel, Greenville and Winterville and some national retailers have recycling programs. As far as a "garbage police" rummaging through your trash bag in search of that illegal USB cable, you don't have much worry there beyond your conscience, of course.
"There's really not that capacity at the state level to enforce the disposal ban at what we'd call the generator level or the citizen level or even the business level. Really it's the disposal facilities that ultimately have the responsibility to communicate to people that use their facilities that they can't accept the banned materials and to encourage their customers that use their landfills to develop alternatives to disposing of the materials, and really that's how its working across the state."
Mouw adds that while the new law doesn't require recycling of other electronics such as cell phones or DVD players most collection points will take the full range of electronics. Scott Mouw is the state recycling program director. I'm George Olsen.