If Santa brings you a shiny new laptop, video game console or flat-screen TV, don't toss the old one in the trash.
Starting Jan. 1, the final phase of New York's 2010 electronics recycling law takes effect, making it illegal for consumers to throw so-called "e-waste" in the garbage.
"Now you have to recycle it," said John Shegerian, CEO of Fresno, Calif.-based Electronic Recyclers International, which provides e-waste recycling services for New York City, Los Angeles and 150 other municipalities across the country. "You need to find a legitimate recycler and get your material to them."
Violators can be fined $100.
New York's law requires electronics manufacturers to finance a system of collection and recycling for state residents. Best Buy stores accept most electronics from consumers for recycling at no charge, regardless of where the product was purchased. For products not accepted in-store, such as rear-projection TVs and monitors larger than 32 inches, the company offers haul-away services when a replacement product is delivered to the home.
The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Staples and Best Buy accept consumer electronics and send them to Electronics Recyclers International, which has eight facilities across the country that shred electronics and reclaim materials.
There are now electronics recycling laws in 25 states, but not all go as far as New York's, which bans landfill disposal of computers and peripherals, televisions, cathode ray tubes and small electronic equipment like VCRs and game consoles. Massachusetts, Maine and Minnesota ban only cathode ray tubes like those in older TVs and computer monitors from landfills.
As more states require electronics recycling, an industry has rapidly grown to provide recycling services. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade group, the U.S. recycling industry employs more than 45,000 full-time workers, up from 6,000 in 2002. The group says the industry processed more than 4.4 million tons of outdated electronics equipment in 2011, with more than 70 percent of the material reclaimed and sold as scrap steel, aluminum, copper, lead, glass, plastic and circuit boards.
But not all recyclers are responsible. The Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based nonprofit group focused on stopping global trade in toxic materials, says unscrupulous recyclers can make a lot of money exporting e-waste to third world countries. There, primitive methods are used to retrieve usable metals, exposing workers and the environment to highly toxic fumes.
Unscrupulous recyclers can also make a tidy profit selling data retrieved from electronic devices.
"People still extract the gold, silver and palladium. But now there is a dual bidding process," Shegerian said, emphasizing the need to work with a certified recycler. "Now some of the highest bidders want to get the hard drive and toss the rest into the ocean or burn it in the desert. The information is sought for corporate espionage or by people adverse to our homeland security."
While there are thousands of recycling companies out there, only a few hundred are certified as following standards for worker health and safety, environmental protection, data security and other areas.
The certifying organizations are the Basel Action Network and Boulder, Colorado-based Sustainable Electronics Recycling International. Electronic Recyclers International is certified by both.
Information on New York's e-waste law is on the Department of Environmental Conservation website.