Legislation to Mandate Electronic Manufacturer Recycling Responsibility

Olympia, WA - Legislation has been introduced in Washington State to begin to resolve a growing electronic waste crisis. House Bill 1942 would hold manufacturers financially responsible for the environmentally sound collection, recycling and disposal of electronic wastes such as old computers, televisions and cell phones. It would also forbid landfilling.

"This bill is a winner," said Rep. Mike Cooper (D-Edmonds), sponsor of the legislation. "It will defuse a growing toxic waste problem by finally giving consumers a convenient way to recycle their computers and TVs. At the same time, it creates market-based incentives to ensure that our electronics industry becomes steadily greener and cleaner — and it would do all of this without increasing taxes one penny."

Currently, taxpayers, local governments, schools and businesses all bear the burden and costs of safely managing discarded electronic equipment, which contains toxic materials. For example, to prevent landfill dumping of electronic waste, Snohomish County financed a one-time "clean-out" of broken electronics from local school districts that resulted in 135 tons of materials at a cost to taxpayers of $55,000.

"Producer responsibility" has taken hold in Europe and Japan, and covers products ranging from paints to automobiles. Under the bill, manufacturers would be required to arrange for convenient collection sites throughout Washington. The sites could be at retailers, municipal recycling centers, charities, or other suitable locations. Consumers would be able to return their discarded electronics free of charge.

Exactly how the program is financed and implemented would be left to manufacturers, allowing them to use their ingenuity to respond in a way that works for them and that is the most cost effective. While it is presumed that initially costs would be passed to consumers by a small increase in product prices, it is anticipated that by putting the responsibility on producers, they will then have a strong economic incentive to make end-of-life disposal costs shrink through "green" design.

Due to the high levels of lead and other toxic materials used in computers and televisions, their disposal poses a serious hazard at landfills where the substances can contaminate future groundwater resources.

Equally alarming is the fact that currently much of our electronic waste is freely traded on the open market, with massive amounts of it exported, dumped and recycled in squalid and dangerous conditions in countries like China. Last February, the Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN) released a globally publicized report and film entitled "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia." This report sent shockwaves around the world but so far has not caused the United States government to forbid the export of toxic electronic waste as European countries have done.

"The export of our hazardous computer effluent to the less affluent is a disgrace and an affront to global environmental justice," said Sarah Westervelt of BAN. "While such export is steadily being banned globally, everyday, computer waste from Washington State still continues to be exported to the poorest Asian countries, even against those countries wishes."

According to Craig Lorch of Total Reclaim, a Seattle area electronics recycler, "The legal export and legal dumping in local landfills make it very difficult for responsible recyclers to compete here in the U.S."