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Household Hazardous Waste
Special Wastes-  Electronics



Television sets have become permanent fixtures in almost every American home. They relay both important information about current events and provide a relaxing way to end the day.

Computers are becoming just as widely used, as television sets, in many homes. Upgraded versions of computers and televisions are constantly being developed.

Every couple of years some people will upgrade their equipment in order to keep their work and leisure as efficient as possible. In some cases, the older technology is so obsolete that it becomes part of the solid waste stream.   These televisions and computers contain hazardous components, which can create major environmental problems during disposal.

Discarded electronics have become a major waste problem, so much in fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that over 20 million personal computers became obsolete in 1998 alone and only 13 percent were reused or recycled. 



Televisions and computer monitors contain a cathode ray tube (CRT). The CRT is used to contain potentially harmful radiation from bombarding the person using the device. Lead is used in the CRT to contain the radiation. On average 4-8 pounds of lead is used in a computer monitor or television set. Exposure to lead may cause kidney and nerve damage.

The plastics used in the circuit boards, wire coverings, components, and covers may contain Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals are mixed with the plastics as a flame retardant. They may cause birth defects and cancer in humans. They are very stable in the environment, meaning that they will remain in the environment for many years and bioaccumulate up the food chain. PBDEs have been found in animals such as arctic seals and salmon.

Older TV and computer components may contain cadmium, mercury, or PCBs. Cadmium and mercury are heavy metals that are toxic to humans; exposure may result in kidney, liver, brain or lung damage. PCBs are known to cause organ damage and birth defects in children. Mercury, cadmium and PCBs bioaccumulate in the environment and are stored in the bodies of animals and passed on through the food chain.




  • Donate useable equipment to a company that may be able to upgrade it.
  • Electronic equipment can be leased; when they are outdated they can be returned.
  • Electronic equipment can be sent back to some electronics manufacturers for a fee (such as IBM’s mail back program).
  • There are some buy back programs, where you can trade in your old computer towards the purchase of a new one.
  • Do not dispose of electronics in the trash.




VT DEC Waste Management & Prevention Division 1 National Life Drive - Davis 1  Montpelier, VT  05620-3704  Tele: 802-828-1138   Fax: 802-828-1011

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