Manufacturers such as Sony, Dell and Panasonic -- 212 in all -- will be paying the bill instead.
Thanks to new statewide legislation that took effect Jan. 1, recycling of those four electronic devices will also be free for small businesses, schools, nonprofit organizations and smaller city governments.
"It is an exciting day," said Sego Jackson, a principal planner for Snohomish County who helped shape the statewide program called E-Cycle Washington. "It's a system that is flipped on its head."
Hailed as a huge victory for the environment and electronics-saddled consumers, the legislation was the first of its kind in the country when it passed in 2006.
Since then, 15 other states have passed similar laws, some of them just in time for the nationwide change to digital TV broadcasting on Feb. 17, which is expected to increase new TV sales and, subsequently, recycling.
"Governments all over the country are concerned about the wave of televisions that will need to be recycled and we're very excited to have this program up in time to deal with that," Jackson said.
More than 200 collection sites across the state will accept the items, including all sizes of TVs, which typically cost at least $20 to recycle before this program.
Local collection sites will include Snohomish County's three transfer stations, five Goodwill locations, three PC Recycle stores and businesses that specialize in computer recycling.
Now, however, is not the time to clean out your garage or basement and run to Goodwill with electronic junk.
Consumers, Jackson said, should delay using the groundbreaking program during its first few days, weeks or even months.
"If you don't have to go, it's better not to go in the first couple days," Jackson said. "We still have some kinks to get out of the system."
Unlike one-time free collection events, this program is permanent. There is no rush.
"Call ahead to the collection sites especially these next couple weeks, just to check in," Jackson said.
The Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority, established by the 2006 legislation, expects the program to take in 24 million pounds of computers, laptops, monitors and TVs at a cost of $8 million to $10 million to manufacturers in its first year.
Each manufacturer will be charged by the pound based on each brand's overall sales and recycling figures. Recycling figures will be based on a sampling of products accepted at collection sites, said John Friedrick, executive director of the authority, which is funded by electronics manufacturers.
Collection sites, transporters of the goods and recycling processors will be paid by the pound at a rate based on typical recycling costs to them.
Snohomish County Solid Waste, for example, accepts computers, laptops, monitors and TVs through its three transfer stations. It will receive 9 cents per pound to cover staffing and supplies.
Based on 2008 figures, that could amount to $170,000, which recycling customers would normally have to pay in fees. Snohomish County Solid Waste also won't have to collect an additional $380,000 from customers to cover recycling processing by private vendors. That bill will also be paid directly by electronics manufacturers under the new law.
"Basically this is saving Snohomish County ratepayers $550,000 a year," Jackson said, adding that he expects recycling programs such as E-Cycle to give manufacturers serious incentive to create products with more eco-friendly life cycles.
"It's very clearly to their benefit to, in the future, make those products as easy to recycle as possible and that also means as nontoxic as possible," he said.
While the program won't cover electronics recycling for large government bodies such as Snohomish County, it will cover cities with populations of less than 50,000, which includes every city in the county besides Everett.
It will also cover school districts, special-service districts such as utility or fire districts, nonprofit organizations and businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
E-Cycle, a won't make all electronics recycling free.
Fees will still apply at recycling sites that aren't participating in the program and for other types of electronics such as printers, computer mice and keyboards.
Consumers are advised to reuse electronics that work.
"If you've got equipment in good working order and it's not ancient stuff that's been in your closet for 10 years, look at reuse options first. Get that in the hands of low-income or aid programs or nonprofits," Jackson said of computer equipment in particular. "Reuse is always better than recycling."
What's free? Only four things -- computers, laptops, monitors and all TVs -- can be recycled for free through the E-Cycle Washington program. Fees may be charged for other electronic items.
Find a collection site: Snohomish County collection sites participating in the free E-Cycle program include the county's three transfer stations, five Goodwill locations, three PC Recycle stores, plus numerous businesses that specialize in recycling. Call ahead to confirm drop-off hours and capacity. Search www.ecyclewashington.org or call 800-RECYCLE for a list of collection sites or see www1.co.snohomish.wa.us and search "solid waste" for all recycling options.
Call for pick up: Truck On Call of Marysville offers an electronics recycling pick-up service for a minimum $15 fee. See www.greentvrecycling.com or call 425-488-6772 for details.
Opt for reuse: InterConnection of Seattle accepts a variety of computers, ideally those with Intel Pentium 3 or 4 processors. See www.interconnection.org or call 206-633-1517 for reuse options. Pick-up service is available for a minimum of three computers and a $45 fee.
Protect your personal data: Clear computer hard drives before you recycle computers or pass them on for reuse. See ebay.com/rethink for free software for erasing hard-drive data.
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