E-recycling and legislation
The direct and indirect problems associated with
the discarding of electronic waste by Americans from both residential
and commercial sectors are compounding daily. Recycling can make
a difference on the environmental front and should enough jurisdictions
in the United States have comprehensive and solid e-waste solid
recycling legislation, the recycling industry would enjoy long-term
economic benefits and fulfill a serious responsibility of dealing
with products that contain many toxic materials.
Four states have e-waste legislation – California,
Washington, Maryland and Maine.
California’s Electronic Waste Recycling
Act of 2003 – SB20 (January 1, 2005), requires consumers to
pay an advanced recycling fee of $6, $8 or $10 depending upon the
size of the screen for computer monitors and televisions with cathode
ray tubes (CRT) and computer and television monitors with liquid
crystal displays (LCD), lap top computers and plasma televisions.
The fee is paid at the point of retail sale and the revenue generated
is placed in a fund that pays for the collection and recycling of
“The financing mechanism is very solid,”
said Shirley Willd–Wagner, the manager of the Electronic Waste
Recycling program with the California Integrated Waste Management
Board, “but the law is not as comprehensive as far as manufacturing
responsibility as the Washington state law. “We pay for good,
sound, environmentally safe collection and recycling. Before the
law, citizens were often charged between $15 and $35 to recycle
In California it is illegal to place electronic
devices in the trash, however a waste characterization study completed
in 2004 for California landfills found that approximately 0.3 percent
of the waste stream was computer-related waste and 0.7 percent was
televisions and other CRT containing devices. The margin of error
was 0.3 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.
Before SB20 took effect, consumers, and sometimes
local governments, were burdened with the cost of collecting and
recycling e-waste. Now that the new funding system is in place,
the fees that were being charged by local governments and other
collectors to accept certain types of e-waste of devices (including
most televisions and many computer monitors), have been drastically
reduced or eliminated.
The funding system covers only video display devices
that the state’s Department of Toxic Substances Control has
tested and determined would be hazardous waste when discarded. This
year, tests are being conducted on portable DVD players to determine
whether they will be added to the list of covered devices. While
California’s list is not comprehensive, some of the products
not covered by the legislation are sought by recyclers for re-sale
and for recycling for plastics and metals.
programs are informing residents and businesses about the law and
as the education level rises, so does the amount of recycling.
“It’s made a difference as far as
disposal of the devices, including computers,” said Willd-Wagner.
“The amount of covered electronic wastes recycled under the
SB20 payment system in the first quarter of 2006 is about 2.5 times
of what it was in the first quarter of 2005.”
Estimates are that in California televisions are
replaced every 7 to 10 years and computers every 3 years. While
computer packages are popular, many people retain their monitors.
Washington State’s e-waste legislation –
ESSB 6428, which was passed last spring, is based on producer responsibility
– manufacturers have to come up with a plan to cover their
fair share of the costs of recovery and recycling of the products
they produce. They also have to submit their own plan or join a
standard plan where the state will determine the rate that different
manufacturers will have to pay.
The funds raised by the legislation will be managed
by a third party organization comprised of members from industry
and government. However, the law does not go into effect until January
1, 2009. Regulations and rules are currently being prepared.
Maryland and Maine’s laws have also been
enacted. Maryland’s is similar to Washington’s, with
manufacturers paying a pro-rata share for the recycling and local
government paying for the collection of devices to consolidation
Some states have bans on placing e-waste in the
waste stream, but some of the bans exempt the residential sector.
Nearly 24 other states have had some type of legislation
brought to the floor last year for discussion.
“Industry is continually meeting with those
states and advocating for what they believe to be the best way to
manage e-waste,” said Willd-Wagner. “Many manufacturers
have stepped forward and developed environmental policies to manage
electronic products from their customers. Several manufacturers
have implemented take-back or recycling programs with retailers
or non-profit organizations.”
For many, a national plan to deal with e-waste
is the goal, but there are competing visions of what a national
plan put forward by the federal government should contain.
The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) supported
a national effort between 2000 - 2003 - the National Electronic
Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI), which was coordinated by
the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and included
state and local governments, environmentalists and representative
groups from industry – manufacturers, retailers and recyclers.
Discussions covered the scope of products to be
covered, regulations, financing, processing standards, preemption
and other elements.
“At a certain point, the group recognized
that the key to federal legislation was an agreement among manufacturers
on a financing system,” said Scott Cassel, the executive director
of the PSI. “The government and industry groups negotiated
a joint resolution that provided a challenge to the industry group
to come up with a consensus on what the funding would be –
whether an advanced recycling fee, producer responsibility, or some
hybrid system, and bring that back for discussion to the full stakeholder
group. After one year of inaction, NEPSI ended.”
On September 13, 2006 four congressmen met with
various government, industry and environmental representatives in
Washington, DC to determine whether another national effort should
“There have been three or four pieces of
legislation introduced to deal with e-waste,” said Willd-Wagner,
“but none have been moved to a formal vote.
Federal government has recognized the problem
and ordered studies on the issue. This includes a Department of
Commerce report (July 2006), along with recommendations and a report
issued by the Government Accountability Office (November 2005).
Cassel notes that there are two ongoing regional
efforts to establish common e-waste regulations. In the northeast,
a model was developed by the Council of State Governments and the
Northeast Recycling Council for several states.
Several mid-western states, including Minnesota
and Iowa, are also making an effort to establish a regional standard.
Attempts to bring in legislation for other states have so far failed.
“Legislation has not been passed because
there is still disagreement among manufacturers as to the best way
to finance the collection and recycling of e-scrap,” said
Cassel. “That was the same problem that existed in the national
effort and that same problem has been brought to bear at a state
level. There are legislative battles between those who support an
advanced recycling fee and those who support producer responsibility.
A lot of that has to do with local political factors and the coalitions
that develop in the states, particularly among manufacturers and
“Many of the legislators don’t know
enough about the issue or would prefer not to get into the battle
at this time, so they don’t pass any legislation,” said
But Cassel remains hopeful that action will be
taken, be it a through a national program or individual state legislation
despite the many hurdles.
“We have four states now and three years
ago we didn’t have any,” he said. “That’s
a big change and you have activity in Congress. There has been incredible
movement in the United States towards stewardship solutions over
the past three years.”
He added that states are looking at both the California
and Washington models and that it is may be possible to find a common
Cassel says that the manufacturers do recognize
the problem of e-waste, as do all stakeholders. Willd-Wagner says
that many manufacturers would still prefer voluntary regulations.
Rick Goss, senior director of environmental affairs
for the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA), says that the members
of his group “broadly support and are very involved in efforts
to properly recover to re-use, re-furbish and recycle used electronic
Last year the EIA broached the electronics recycling
issue with key members of the Congress and as a result of that action,
says Goss, hearings on the subject were held for the first time
in the House and Senate.
But EIA members are divided on the financing aspect
– an advanced recycling fee versus product responsibility.
“Because of that,” he said, “the
EIA does not have a formal position on how to finance a program.
We believe that it is the responsibility of all the institutional
stakeholders to coordinate under a shared responsibility approach
to come up with a system that is inexpensive and convenient for
the residential consumer.”
He said that the industry operates in a very competitive
marketplace with very low margins and that there are not a “whole
lot of opportunities to absorb additional costs without passing
them along to consumers in the form of higher prices.”
The EIA believes that federal government has a
role to play in terms of regulatory consistency and ensuring that
end-o f-life products can move freely across state boundaries for
proper refurbishment, recycling and commodity management.