New law keeps electronics out of North Carolina landfills
Photo courtesy of Brett Rhinehardt | Electronics contain valuable metals and plastics that can be reused to manufacture new items.
Angie's List member Debbie Winall faced a dilemma when her television died recently — how to get rid of it. Fortunately, she learned Union County now recycles TVs. "Something like that is hard to dispose of, even if I didn't care what happened with it, but I was trying to do the right thing," the Indian Trail resident says.
Starting July 1, a new state law requires responsible disposal of all electronic waste in North Carolina to keep items such as TVs, computers, printers and keyboards out of landfills.
North Carolina joins 23 other states, including South Carolina, in adopting e-cycling laws, according to the National Center for Electronics Recycling. A 2010 study by the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance estimates the state trashed more than 67,000 tons of electronics in 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available.
"It's estimated about 10 to 20 percent of electronics are being recycled [nationwide], but we don't know what's happening to the rest," says Jason Linnell, NCER executive director. The metals and plastics can be reused, he adds, and the lead and mercury in electronic components must be properly managed.
The law also mandates by 2013 that recycling centers process electronics only through companies certified as responsible recyclers.
That will prevent companies from shipping electronics to landfills in developing countries, says Scott Mouw, state recycling director. "Does that mean stuff from North Carolina won't end up causing problems in China or Guam? No," Mouw says. "But, over time, there will be greater confidence that materials are handled properly."
To become certified as a "responsible recycler," e-cycling companies must meet one of two standards: e-Stewards or R2. Both contain their own requirements, but each ask companies to track where recycled parts are reused.
Charlotte-based eCycleSecure, which processes recycled electronics and finds buyers for the parts, obtained the Environmental Protection Agency's R2 certification this year, vice president Brett Rhinehardt says. His company, not yet rated on the List, breaks down old electronics into raw materials. Tracking items such as glass in an old TV involves additional expense and labor, he adds.
"I have to be able to track it from my dock to the guy who crushes the glass, all the way back to Samsung who turns it into new TVs," Rhinehardt says.
Brad Redden of Charlotte-based Junk Rescue Co., not yet rated on the List, uses Powerhouse Recycling - a certified responsible recycler in Salisbury that handles large quantities - to dispose of electronics that his company receives. "We love the fact that these things are being banned," he says of the new law.
Individual homeowners won't be punished for tossing electronics into the trash, but garbage companies must refuse to pick up those items, Mouw says. "It's practically impossible to enforce at a household level," he says. However, the state plans to inspect processing facilities and landfills and fine them if they don't comply.