Discarded computers and other electronics are the fastest growing portion of the U.S. waste stream. By some estimates, there are between 300 million and 500 million obsolete computers in the United States, plus hundreds of millions of televisions. And between 20 million and 24 million computers and televisions are added to storage each year.
Two states–Maine and Washington–have already enacted laws requiring manufacturers to take back their electronics. In Maine, such take backs are limited to computer monitors, televisions, and laptops; Washington’s law also includes CPUs. Other states have bills in the pipeline. Many computer companies, including Dell and Hewlett Packard, already support producer take-back policies. Others, including Samsung, Sony, and LG, support such efforts abroad but not in the United States, where no federal law requires take backs, says Schneider.
But despite such corporate programs and state laws, the larger story in the United States is a lack of regulation, meaning many electronics still get thrown out with the regular garbage. “Most computers are in storage in people’s homes and offices, and that is probably the best thing in the short term, because in most states, it’s still perfectly legal to throw them in the trash,” says Schneider.