Got a new computer for Christmas? Finally replaced that old cell phone? Ready to toss the fax machine? Don’t plan on throwing old electronics in the trash or setting them out on the curb. Starting Jan. 1, Illinois residents must recycle them under a law aimed at keeping the gadgets — and the toxic metals they contain — out of landfills.
It’s one of more than 200 laws that take effect New Year’s Day dealing with everything from lost pets to online bullying. One sets up a registry for first-degree murder convicts, while another requires adults to wear a seat belt in the backseat.
The electronics recycling law is among those with widespread impact, given the advances of technology and consumers’ appetite for the latest products. The measure is meant to protect the environment and prevent the loss of component materials that can be reused.
“There are concerns that the heavy metals could cause groundwater pollution if they leach out of a landfill, but they also contain valuable pieces, like gold, copper and cadmium, that can be recovered,” said Dave Walters, manager of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s waste reduction section.
About 33 million pounds of electronics were recycled in Illinois in 2010, but a lot more probably was tossed, Walters said. The amount was sure to increase because computers and other electronics become obsolete so quickly — “they’re almost old by the time you get them home,” Walters joked.
The goal with the new law was to divert up to 60 million pounds of electronics from landfills in 2013, said Mike Mitchell, executive director of the Illinois Recycling Association.
“I hope the message gets out there that a lot of this is not garbage and it’s not valueless,” Mitchell said.
But that means consumers will have to exert a little more effort to get rid of their old televisions, fax machines, computers, cell phones, video recorders and other electronics. Some stores, like Best Buy, will accept the equipment, many communities have household hazardous waste disposal days, and some recyclers will take the goods. The law prevents consumers from being charged for dropping off items.
Consumers said they were ready to embrace the law, but some questioned how effective it will be.
“Forcing people to do this is good when some people don’t even know what to do,” said Mitchell Eickhoff, 22, a chemical engineering student who was browsing tablets at the Best Buy on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and soon will replace his 5-year-old computer.
Jonny Latting, an actor from Chicago, was shopping for a flat-screen TV and thinks he’ll give away his old one rather than discard it.
“It’s not food. It’s not going to go bad,” he said. “It’s a good law. It’s necessary. But it won’t be 100 percent perfect. … There’s so many people (discarding electronics).”
Walters recommends people call their county solid waste coordinator or municipal office for drop-off information. Mitchell’s group also will have a list of drop-off locations on its website — http://www.illinoisrecycles.org — shortly after the new year, he said.
Trash haulers will be banned from picking up the items with the regular trash, though in some communities, residents might be able to call for curbside pickup, Mitchell said. Violating the law could result in a fine of $25 for a first offense and $50 for subsequent offenses.
The new ban is an extension of a 2008 law that required manufacturers to establish recycling programs for their electronic products.
Under other new laws:
- Adults passengers must wear seat belts in the back seat of a vehicle. People 18 and younger must wear a seat belt while riding in a taxi for school-related purposes. Police will be permitted to pull over a car if they see someone violating the law. Passengers caught without a seatbelt will receive a $25 fine.
Supporters of the measure called it common-sense safety legislation, while opponents criticized it as government intrusion in people’s personal lives. In Illinois, 29 backseat passengers not wearing seatbelts died in 2010, continuing a steady decline in those fatalities since 2005, when 74 died.