Massachusetts Bans Dumping of CRTs

The march of progress comes at a price to the environment. Old computer monitors and television sets often wind up in landfills, where they can leak lead, cadmium, mercury, and other toxic chemicals into the groundwater. The federally mandated changeover to digital television, projected to be complete within the next six years, may exacerbate the problem as millions of consumers consign their old displays to the trash.

On April 8, the state of Massachusetts became the first in the nation to ban the dumping of TV sets and computer monitors, otherwise known as cathode-ray tubes (CRTs). The new regulations are an attempt to ward off what could become a serious environmental problem. Each CRT contains several pounds of lead, which can attach itself to human hemoglobin and cause lead poisoning. "We're trying to get this program in place before the future tidal wave of electronics hits," said Robin Ingenthron, a strategic planner with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. In Massachusetts, about 75,000 tons of junk electronics are tossed annually into landfills and incinerators—a figure expected to grow to 300,000 tons within five years.

CRTs can be safely recycled, according to the DEP, which has set up six collection centers. The DEP has also set up a program to pay for the recycling. This year, the program will extend to 113 cities and towns in the state, reaching approximately half the state's population.

The DEP will encourage people to recycle other electronic components, such as circuit boards, transformers, batteries, and equipment cases. Private electronics-recycling companies already do a steady and profitable business in some high-technology communities. A sufficient quantity of old printed circuit boards, for example, can yield literal gold for a recycler. The highly conductive precious metal is used to plate contacts on PCBs' plug-in connectors.