The electronic trash piles up
From The Providence Journal - Sat, 29 Apr 2000

As of this month, TVs and computer monitors will no longer be allowed in Massachusetts landfills.

The new bill puts the Bay State in the forefront of efforts to keep our electronics-intensive lifestyle from harming our health. With luck, other states will watch and learn from the Massachusetts example, and follow suit.

The ban chiefly targets cathode ray tubes (CRTs), and any device that might hold them. CRTs contain lead meant to protect viewers from radiation. The lead (along with other chemicals common in electronic devices) could leach from landfills into groundwater. The pollutants could also be released into the air during burning. Thus, the ban applies to incinerators as well as landfills.

The state wants people to recycle rather than dump unwanted TVs or computers. It will spend $200,000 to help defray the costs for cities and towns, as well as at six regional centers that accept working electronic equipment. Because strategies will vary from one community to another, residents should call their local boards of health for specific information.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is wisely seeking to get ahead of a problem that is certain to grow. Computers are becoming obsolete every couple of years. Millions are expected to be discarded in the near future, perhaps in this year’s bout of spring cleaning.

But worse, the switch to digital televisions, expected to occur in the next five years or so, will almost certainly create a mountain of trashed TVs. (Existing TVs will need converter boxes to continue operating.) The DEP calculated that it could face disposing of nearly 6 million sets in Massachusetts alone.

Under the circumstances, the DEP’s push for, recycling shows commendable foresight But it is also an uncomfortable reminder of how Americans are now virtually floating on a sea of electronic gadgetry. The companies that make money on these devices are upgrading and redefining them practically every hour, yet with almost no concern for the waste accumulating in the process.

One of the oft-touted virtues of the Information Age is that by eliminating paper and streamlining the delivery of goods and services, it will ultimately reveal itself as friendly to the environment. But this notion is hard to square with the sight of all that unwanted hardware in the basement, or down at the Goodwill center. (One warehouse in Roxbury reportedly handled 1,200 discarded computers and TVs last year alone.)

As a relatively new industry, computer manufacturing should develop a new kind of corporate model, one that takes the inevitability of obsolescence into account and anticipates recycling needs. If the computer industry wants to sell itself as green” (that is, environmentally friendly), it should add some reality to the image. TV makers might be shamed into doing likewise.

BACK to Articles