Plan good, with caveats

December 4, 2012

While it’s certainly convenient to haul an old television set out to the curb when it flickers out, it’s not good for the environment to have it quietly decay in a landfill for decades.

Televisions, along with gizmos and gadgets that have become fixtures of our daily life like desktop and laptop computers, monitors and printers, contain a host of heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, that are healthy for neither the ecosystem nor humans. Moreover, metals like platinum, copper, silver, gold, aluminum and iron are used in these products and can be recycled.

Starting Jan. 24, Pennsylvania residents will be required to recycle those outmoded or unrepairable electronics through special collection events, county programs or manufacturer mail-ins. A story in Tuesday’s edition of the Observer-Reporter pointed out that if you put them out by the street and a community doesn’t have a curbside electronics collection program, garbage haulers will simply leave them there. Waste Management, which handles trash pickup for many municipalities throughout the region, has already stated that it will cease hauling away computer equipment and televisions on Jan. 1.

Though it’s easier to take the “out of sight, out of mind” approach when it comes to our discards, the new law is undeniably well-intended. We have qualms, though, about a requirement being placed on electronics manufacturers that they report to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection on the total weight of all devices sold annually in Pennsylvania, and the amount sold nationally. Manufacturers that collect less recyclable material than a targeted amount will have to pay a penalty.

Unless there’s something about this condition that we’re missing, doesn’t this create a perverse incentive for companies to create products that reach obsolescence with even more haste than they already do? Sure, a significant portion of the economy is powered by consumers replacing worn-out merchandise, from washers, dryers and cars to, yes, laptops. But, to us, if a manufacturer doesn’t have a lot of its handiwork recycled every year, it should be a mark of pride, not shame – it shows they’ve created durable goods that give value for the dollar.



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