Rules & Regulations
Electronic devices such as computer monitors and TVs contain hazardous materials that must be managed properly. Picture tubes, or cathode ray tubes (CRTs), are made with three to eight pounds of the heavy metal lead. Circuit boards also contain lead in addition to cadmium, mercury and other hazardous materials. Heavy metals such as lead can cause damage to living organisms at very low concentrations and tend to accumulate in the food chain. Once these electronic products are broken or no longer being used, they must be handled according to local, state, federal regulations and international trade laws.
City of Seattle
The City of Seattle does not accept any electronic devices that contain CRTs (Seattle Public Utilities Solid Waste Director's Rule 2003-01). CRTs are not accepted in municipal solid waste, including any commercial or residential garbage can, container or receptacle, or at any transfer station.
King County Waste Acceptance Policy
King County encourages residents and businesses to recycle their electronic equipment rather than place it in the trash. As of October 1, 2005, computers, monitors, televisions and cell phones are not accepted in the garbage or at any of the transfer stations. Visit the Waste Acceptance Policy for additional details on what items are accepted at the transfer stations.
Illegal dumping - the improper disposal of waste - impacts public health and safety, property values and the quality of life in our community. To report an illegal dumpsite call 206-296-SITE (7483) or report on-line at http://your.kingcounty.gov/solidwaste/cleanup/report-dumping.asp.
Washington State Regulations
In 2006, the state legislature passed the Electronic Product Recycling Law, Chapter 173-900 WAC, requiring manufacturers of TVs, computers and monitors to provide recycling services for these products at no cost to households, small businesses, charities, school districts, and small governments by January 1,2009. For more information about the program please visit the Department of Ecology website.
State regulations encourage businesses and residents to properly recycle used electronic equipment. In May 2002, the Washington State Department of Ecology issued an Interim Enforcement Policy - Conditional Exclusion for Cathode Ray Tubes and Related Electronic Wastes (PDF, external link) that excludes CRTs from the Dangerous Waste Regulations if they are properly recycled.
Exporting and Overseas Recycling
If you recycle your electronic products rather than dispose of them, you do not trigger any hazardous or solid waste regulations in the United States. However, the US has not harmonized its definitions and laws governing hazardous waste with the global ones defined by the Basel Convention. Leaded glass monitors and TVs, circuit boards, many batteries, PCBs, beryllium, and mercury in electronics are designated as hazardous waste internationally, and should be recycled or properly disposed in developed (OECD/EU) nations. If a piece of equipment is tested as fully functional, it may be exported anywhere as a product, rather than a waste.
The Basel Convention
Most nations, not including the United States, have ratified an international treaty called the Basel Convention (external) which restricts the movement of hazardous wastes between countries. The Basel Convention is a trade barrier intended to prevent the flow of toxic waste from rich to poorer countries. There are 164 nations that have agreed, via the Basel Convention, not to trade in hazardous wastes with nations that are not parties to the treaty (such as the US) unless the country is one of the 36 most developed nations. These 36 developed nations belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (external) and/or the European Union.
The OECD represents the interests of the 30 most developed nations, including the United States. Six non-OECD countries have now joined the European Union, and have been required to transpose the OECD obligations into their national laws. Therefore, it is not illegal for those 35 nations to import hazardous waste from the US. However, there are certain protocols and requirements that the US must meet prior to exporting each shipment of waste to these nations.
Over the past several years, reports documenting dangerous overseas recycling practices have surfaced. To read more about these issues, refer to: "UN Warning on E-waste ‘Mountain’" (external: BBC News, Nov. 27, 2006); "Toxic Outsourcing" (external: MetroActive, March 21-27, 2007) and; the Basel Action Network report called "Exporting Harm" (PDF, external). For more information about the export of hazardous materials for recycling, refer to the Basel Action Network (external).
What should you do with your used equipment?
Before sending your equipment to a recycler, make sure that the recycler handles the materials in an environmentally sound manner, in the US or developed countries. The local members of the Take it Back Network have agreed to meet these requirements. An additional list of recyclers across the US who have pledged to meet these standards is located on the Basel Action Network (external) Web site.
When you contact an electronics recycler, ask questions!
If you are not able to use one of the recyclers identified in the lists above, the document produced by the Basel Action Network "The Basics of how BAN Qualifies Responsible Electronics Recyclers" (PDF, 22 K) provides a list of questions to ask the recyclers and also gives a list of appropriate answers. If you don't feel comfortable with the answers you're getting, move on to another recycler.