Dodgy Dumping

There's something to be said for taking charge of your own mess. In July, Minnesota enacted a statewide ban on the disposal of televisions, computer monitors and other hazardous electronic waste (e-waste). Minnesotans were asked to pay the $5 to $30 cost of properly disposing of the equipment.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press and officials around the state, that has lead to a dramatic rise in the illegal dumping of e-waste. Residents, especially in rural counties, simply toss the equipment into woods, lakes and rivers, or dump it on the side of the road rather than go to the trouble and expense of turning it in to recyclers. Soon after the legislation passed, state highway department workers noticed a rash of TVs and monitors turning up in ditches. Many residents smuggle the equipment into landfills by wrapping it in trash bags.

The situation is complicated by the fact that few of the state's 87 counties, tasked with enforcing the law, have established e-waste collection programs, making it difficult for residents to do the right thing even if they want to.

“We all heard from county officials that a likely consequence of not having a good system for taking electronic waste means they would end up in the ditches or in the woods,” said Rep. Jean Wagenius of Minneapolis, in the Pioneer Press report. “This happened.”

Minnesota's woes are illustrative of the problems states face in banning e-waste without the infrastructure or funding necessary to handle the material properly. Wagenius says she plans to hold a hearing on e-waste recycling, and the Minnesota Legislature is expected to revisit the issue after a failed attempt to establish a manufacturer-funded e-waste collection and recycling system in 2005.