The General Assembly approved a bill last week that will let North Carolinians dump their old computers on the street for recycling pickup, alongside their plastic bottles and cans.
An amended electronic waste bill that needs only the governor's signature assigns shared responsibility for recycling electronics to manufacturers and local governments. Manufacturers can either shoulder most of the burden of recycling their products or they can pay for local governments to do more of the heavy lifting for them.
Either way, officials hope the measure will encourage people not to toss their old gadgets in the trash.
"Consumers need this free and convenient recycling option to encourage them to recycle," said Sen. Don Vaughan, a Greensboro Democrat who sponsored the bill.
He added that the law would be a model for other states.
"What I believe we have is one of the best recycling plans anywhere in the country," he said.
As the use of cell phones, personal computers and televisions in the United States continues to increase, so does the amount of electronic waste, or e-waste. Electronics contain harmful materials such as mercury. Unlike other recyclables, computers can require disassembly and are made of numerous materials.
"It's definitely a different animal than a piece of paper," said Scott Mouw, North Carolina's recycling director.
People tend to hoard unusable or obsolete electronics, Mouw said. In a February study, the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance estimated that there was almost 70,000 tons of electronic waste ready for disposal in North Carolina in 2007.
There is already a statee-waste law that bans the disposal of televisions and computers starting next year. The law also requires manufacturers to create a recycling plan, register with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and pay annual fees, which are distributed to local governments for recycling programs.
The new amendment allows computer companies to choose from different tiered recycling plans. The more intensive the plan, the less expensive the annual fee the company has to pay.
For example, a company with a plan that includes a mail-back option and at least one waste collection site pays a $15,000 annual fee; but a company with a plan that includes collection sites in 50 counties pays only a $2,500 fee.
Putting local governments in charge of electronics recycling may be the best option since people are already familiar with recycling in their communities, Mouw said.
"That's the best kind of system for a citizen," he said. "You load up your truck with everything with a chip and plug in it and you take it to one spot."
Another change: The disposal ban is pushed back from January to July of next year.
More than 20 states have some form of e-waste legislation. A lawsuit filed by electronics industry associations arguing that a New York City e-waste law was unconstitutional is now moot because a statewidee-waste bill was recently signed into law.
A Dell spokeswoman said in an e-mail that her company was supportive of the North Carolina regulations.
"We support the legislation and the applaud the North Carolina legislature for passing legislation that will make PC recycling free and convenient for consumers," said Michelle Mosmeyer, a Dell representative. "These factors help ensure success of the program, which means fewer PCs heading to landfills."