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Trash trouble: After e-recycling law, more illegal dumping

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E-waste
Some components in most electronic products contain hazardous materials, such as lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium. These toxics are not a problem when consumers use these products, but they can create environmental problems if they are thrown away with other household garbage.
HO/AFP/Getty Images

     (AP)  Nearly six months after Minnesota barred old televisions and computer monitors from landfills, leaders in some counties are finding the waste in rivers, ditches, wooded areas and trash bins.   

    County officials want legislators to revisit the electronic waste recycling law in the 2007 session, and put the onus on manufacturers to set up an electronic collection and recycling system.

      "A lot of people are saying they are seeing more illegal dumping," said Annalee Garletz, policy analyst for the Association of Minnesota Counties.

      Each piece of discarded video equipment contains 2 to 8 pounds of lead and smaller amounts of other harmful pollutants like mercury and cadmium.

      According to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency projections, state residents will get rid of 10 million pounds of televisions and another 10 million pounds of computers, monitors, laptops and printers next year.

      Disposing of the equipment can cost from $5 to more than $25.

      "Any time people think something is going to cost them money, there are those who will pay it and those who won't," added Kevin Ruud, environmental services director for Norman County. "It's that simple."

      Garletz's organization found in a recent survey that the problem tends to be more acute in rural counties.

      In Polk County, for example, officials noticed that people were taking the equipment home after being asked to pay the recycling fee. But some people were determined to get rid of the stuff anyway.

      "Lots of them are being left in parking lots after hours," said Jon Steiner, Polk County environmental services director. "People drive around the side of the building and leave them by the Dumpster instead of paying for them."

      State highway department workers called Morrison County officials and asked why they were finding a flurry of TVs and monitors in ditches. The county's environmental specialist said other residents resorted to wrapping electronics in black plastic bags and leaving them at landfills anyway.

      "People are getting very creative because they don't want to pay the cost," Kowalzek said.

      Other counties, such as Hennepin County, already had effective electronic-recovery systems for people updating equipment or cleaning out basements and garages.

      Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, is the new head of the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee. She said she plans to hold a hearing on e-waste recycling early in the upcoming session.

      Minnesota's isn't the only state with an e-recycling law. Similar statutes are on the books in Maine, Maryland and Washington.