VOL. 126 | NO. 14 | Friday, January 21, 2011
Tenn. Lacks State Laws Governing Electronic Waste
CHATTANOOGA (AP) – Americans generate more than 2 million tons of electronic waste a year, some of it toxic. But fewer than half the states have laws governing its disposal, and Tennessee isn't one of them.
Many electronic devices contain toxic metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, which are not allowed to be disposed of in a typical landfill, according to federal regulations. But unless local landfill rules prohibit it, Tennesseans can still dump their old electronics.
An Environmental Protection Agency report from 2007 found that only 18 percent of old electronic equipment in the U.S. was being collected for recycling. Eighty-two percent was being trashed, primarily in landfills.
Without statewide standards in Tennessee, it's up to each county to create and fund programs for its collection.
Paula Mitchell, household hazardous waste coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that there are at least 175 collection sites across the state, with 61 of Tennessee's 95 counties making some provision for the collection and recycling of electronic scrap from households.
Local governments can apply for solid waste assistance grants through TDEC to help offset costs, she said.
It's not known how much of Tennessee's e-waste goes to landfills, but in fiscal year 2010, public collection programs handled more than 1.1 million pounds of electronic scrap for recycling.
While some of it is toxic, there's another good reason to recycle it. Some e-waste contains valuable precious metals, Mitchell said.
Although electronics now make up less than 2 percent of municipal solid waste, the e-waste category is growing two to three times faster than any other waste, according to the EPA.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list cancer and nervous system damage as some of the potential risks from e-scrap toxins.
"We are not yet seeing evidence of some of these metals leaching in landfills, but then again, this is kind of a new issue. It may be 20, 30 more years down the road before we see that," Mitchell said.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com
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