This time next year it will be illegal for Maine residents to throw out their old computers and TV sets with the rest of the trash, and the state is now trying to figure out a way to charge for that mandated recycling.

State law passed in 2004 requires computer and TV manufacturers pay for part of the recycling costs in a shared arrangement with cities and towns. Maine is the first state in the nation to require manufacturers pay, based on the number of their products that get recycled, for the handling of what’s become known as “e-waste.”

While the law that will make it illegal to dump cathode-ray tubes has been in the works for several years, it won’t be official until July of 2006 for residential TVs and computers. Businesses and schools already are required to recycle.

The Department of Environmental Protection is in the process of devising rules on how costs will be divided up, essentially making cities and towns responsible for getting the e-waste to central collection spots or consolidators and making manufacturers pay for getting it to and through the recycling process. The comment period on the proposed rules ends on Monday with the hope that new rules will be adopted in October.

Municipalities would like as many consolidation spots as possible so they don’t have to ship the waste very far, said Carole Cifrino of the DEP’s division of solid waste.

Manufacturers want as few as possible so it’s simpler and cheaper to get the waste from the consolidators to the closest recycling plants, most of which are in Massachusetts.

Residents will end up caring about the ultimate solution because cities and towns could charge an “end-of-life” fee per TV or computer, or, at the very least, the local share will be paid for through the property tax.

“Lots of towns are doing recycling now,” said Jeff Austin, a lobbyist with the Maine Municipal Association. And, they are likely to make out under the new law since manufacturers now will be picking up part of the costs.

For the towns that aren’t now recycling, however, the cost could be more than the tipping fee per pound they now pay to get rid of computers and TVs as part of their solid waste disposal.

The key, Austin said, is having a lot of consolidation spots. If there’s only a handful or they are all located below Augusta, that will make transportation a big expense.

One idea from the DEP that Austin thinks could work is using a “milk truck run” approach to collecting the e-waste, essentially making a 40-foot tractor-trailer truck a consolidation spot on wheels.

“Instead of having bricks and mortar facilities all over the state,” he said, a semi would go out and pick up TVs and computers from municipal sheds. Cities and towns would pay for getting the trucks to pick up the e-waste, but once the truck was full, the manufacturers would pay for hauling it to recycling.

If that sounds a bit complicated, it gets worse as the person in charge of the consolidating facility – be it a truck or a real building – tries to figure out what to charge the scores of manufacturers who make TVs and computers sold in Maine.

Under the law, manufacturers most likely will be charged a per pound fee for their recycled equipment. The high end would be 48-cents a pound, but Cifrino is hoping to get the cost down once the collection system is established.

That will mean sorting hundreds of brand names by their parent companies, with an estimated 10 to 15 percent expected to be “orphans” because their parent company no longer exists or can’t be determined.

Apple Computer says it wants to pick up its old products itself rather than pay for the recycling so they can get a look at what happens to their machinery “at the end of life,” Cifrino said. “It’s a chance for them to learn something more about their business.”

Others say they’ll pick up their estimated share of the total e-waste pile and get it recycled themselves because they already have good relationships with recyclers.

Cifrino says the state believes that by involving the manufacturers and making them pay, the science of recycling will move ahead much faster than if it were just left up to consumers.

“If manufacturers have to pay, they’ll find a way to make money out of it,” she said. “They’ll get them reused rather than just throwing it away.”


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