Using computers is as much a part of our daily activities as driving a car or using a microwave oven. But, unlike cars or ovens, computers become out of date' at an astounding rate, usually with only three years of use. The problem is that computers have toxic components. A typical processor and monitor contain five to eight pounds of lead and heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and arsenic. Consequently, computers pose a formidable solid waste challenge, not only in terms of sheer numbers, but also in terms of environmental risk.
What a school or business should know
Disposal of computers is subject to the Maine Hazardous Waste Management Regulations. Throwing old computers into the dumpster with the regular trash is not a legal option unless, through laboratory testing, the computer can be proven to be non hazardous. (Note that laboratory testing would likely be more expensive than the cost of recycling.)
Universal Waste Management Companies (pdf format) can ensure your used electronics are handled and recycled in accordance with all regulatory requirements. Elementary and secondary schools, and businesses with 100 fewer employees can recycle some of their e-waste at no cost through Maine's extended producer responsibility program.
What a homeowner should know
It is illegal to dispose of computer monitors and televisions generated as wastes by households in Maine. Instead, all waste computer monitors and televisions must be recycled. Maine has a system of “shared responsibility” for the recycling of computer monitors and televisions. Maine’s “Shared Responsibility” system requires the consumer, their municipality, and manufacturers to all have a role in making sure computer monitors and televisions get recycled in an environmentally sound way.
Universal Waste Municipal Collection Sites (pdf format) - This is a listing by town of municipal collection sites that accept Universal Waste, including electronic waste. The blue blocks signify that they will take from anyone in the state not just for the residents in their town. Green means we were not able to reach anyone in that municipal office. If anyone finds any errors or changes to these listings, please contact the Hazardous Waste Program staff at 287-2651.
For more information on Maine’s E-Waste Law, contact Carole Cifrino at (207) 485-8160 or (207) 287-2651 or at email@example.com.
Alternatives to disposal for schools, businesses and homeowners
There are plenty of ways to practice the three "R's" - reduce, reuse or recycle.
- Lease equipment. This may be a good option for businesses and schools. When it's time to upgrade, the old unit is returned to the vendor, sometimes for credit towards a new computer. (Look in the Yellow Pages under Computers Leasing'.)
- Identify durable products. Before you buy a new computer, check repair histories and consumer ratings through consumer publications.
- Repair instead of replace, if at all possible. (Look in the Yellow Pages under Computer Repair'.)
- Buy upgradable computers. If you can upgrade with a single component, you may save money and delay dealing with the disposal issue.
Some computers still have useful life, even if they cannot handle the latest software. Nursing homes, schools, youth centers, municipal offices and charity or non-profit organizations may welcome donations of working older computers.
Although there may be a cost involved, recycling options abound, including:
- Municipal collection: All municipalities must provide their residents with a way to recycle their household televisions and computer monitors. This can be done through on-going collections at a solid waste facility, with an annual one-day collection, or through contracting with a local universal waste consolidation business to accept computer monitors and televisions from residents. Contact your municipal office or local solid waste /recycling facility to find out how you can recycle your old computer monitor or television.Places that accept computer monitors for recycling also usually accept CPU's at no cost (CPUs have valuable micrometallics that are worth more than the cost of recycling).
- Manufacturer and Retailer "take-back": Some manufacturers of electronics are offering take-back programs or reuse incentives. This means that electronics can be returned to the manufacturer, retailer or a designated company for recycling, or donated to a charity for credit. Two of the more widely available take back programs are at Best Buy (Off-Site) and the Goodwill-Dell ReConnect program (Off-Site). Check your electronics manufacturer's web site for information on their specific program.
For more information on household or school computer recycling contact:
17 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0017
For more information on business computer recycling contact:
Hazardous Waste Staff
Augusta Office 207-287-2651
Bangor Office 207-941-4570
Portland Office 207-822-6300