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June 2007

Minnesota passes tough e-waste recycling law

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty recently signed HF854 into law. Some have said that it is the strongest e-waste law in the country. The bill, which passed quickly through both the Minnesota house and senate, requires that electronics manufacturers must help pay for collecting and recycling household e-waste.

This was the fourth year Minnesota legislators tried to pass this type of e-waste bill. This year, the bill had wide support from businesses and associations, including IBM, which had opposed previous versions of the bill.
Other Minnesota businesses that supported the bill were Best Buy, 3M and Target Corporation. Since these are some of the most prominent producers and retailers of electronics in the state, their support carried a lot of weight.

This wasn’t the first e-waste bill to pass in Minnesota. As of July 1, 2006, disposing of cathode-ray tubes in landfills was banned. However, there was no way to collect and recycle the offending televisions and computer monitors, so consumers were on their own to dispose of them.

The legislature heard from counties all over the state who supported HF854. Rural areas, where there were few places to recycle electronics, had seen an increase in illegal dumping. Counties often had to create programs for disposing of e-waste, which sometimes meant increasing property taxes to pay for the programs.

Rep. Brita Sailer said, during the House floor debate, “We’ve been hearing from our residents in Minnesota that they are getting sick and tired of having garages full of televisions, spare bedrooms full of computer monitors and garages full of all sorts of other electronic waste.”

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, a critic of the bill, said it would increase costs for consumers because manufacturers would pass along the costs of the recycling. He said, “Let’s do what is right. Let’s collect, or put a goal out there that is achievable rather than something that is ridiculous.”

While other states have “producer responsibility” laws, this is the first that targets how much e-waste the manufacturers must collect and recycle. The amount is based on percentages of what was sold. Manufacturers must collect 60 percent of the weight during the first program year, and 80 percent thereafter.

Manufacturers must pay a yearly fee to the state, and, if they don’t meet the goals, they must pay an additional fee for each pound they come up short. The registration fee for the first year is $5,000. Each year afterward, the fee is based on, among other things, the number of units sold and “recycling credits,” which can be bought from or sold to other manufacturers.

While manufacturers seem to be the target of the bill, there are also requirements for retailers who sell electronic equipment. Of course, companies that collect and recycle the e-waste will have new requirements as well.

E-waste recyclers will have to give evidence to manufacturers that the recycler has complied with the regulations, including that:

(1) All solid and hazardous waste generated from recycling covered electronic devices must be managed and processed in North America or a member country of the European Union (EU);

(2) All circuit boards must be managed for metals recovery and processed in a smelter located in North America or an EU member country;

(3) Any refurbishment or repair of covered electronic devices must take place in North America.

In addition, there are requirements for recyclers in regards to liability insurance, licensing, and written plans for environmental health and safety training for employees, hazardous materials identification and management, and reporting.

Minnesota follows California, Maine, Maryland and Washington in mandating the recycling of used electronics. Other states are considering similar legislation.

Ted Smith, chairman of the Computer Take Back Campaign, stated in a press release, “This is the most ambitious bill in the country to date, because it pushes the industry to find ways to encourage people to return their old electronics for recycling. The electronics industry has vigorously resisted meaningful goals for collecting e-waste, but without having to meet goals, what incentive do they have to really push their customers to bring back their old stuff? This bill will also encourage electronics companies to improve their product design to make them easier to recycle. This is a very important step forward in addressing the mushrooming e-waste problem.”

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