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Survey Finds Consumers Willing to Pay Up-front Electronics Recycling Fee

Seattle, WA - Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation, a citizen-based advocacy group, announced the results of a survey on electronics waste and recycling. The survey was prompted by increasing public concern about toxics contained in computers and televisions and the limited options for recycling those items. Computers and televisions contain significant quantities of mercury and lead and are difficult to disassemble for recycling. Because of these components, computers, monitors and televisions are in the process of being banned from disposal at landfills and incinerators in many communities across the U.S.

The study found that Seattle area residents overwhelmingly believe that electronics manufacturers should be responsible for designing easily recycl-able, less toxic products, and for providing a way to recycle those products. The study also revealed that residents would prefer to take their used computers back to local retailers for recycling. The study also noted that when faced with a "pre-paid" recycling fee added to the cost of the product, residents are highly unlikely to adjust their buying habits.

The study highlights include:

94 percent of respondents agreed that corporations that make electronic products should be responsible for designing them to be easily recyclable and less toxic. Ninety-two percent also agreed that when these products contain toxic lead and mercury, these corporations should provide a safe and convenient way to recycle them.

71 percent of respondents would prefer that pre-paid recycling costs be included in the retail cost of the product. At least 61 percent of respondents would prefer to take their computers and electronic products back to a retailer for recycling, even if free recycling were also offered at local landfills, transfer stations or via shipping to the original manufacturer.

If a pre-paid recycling fee of $15 were added to the cost of a television, 86 percent of survey respondents said they would buy it anyway. Only 8 percent said they would buy over the Internet to avoid the fee.

Faced with a $20 fee to recycle an old computer system, 55 percent said they would bring the computer in for recycling. But 34 percent said they would store their computer at home instead of recycling the computer and paying the fee. Only 4 percent admitted that they would put it illegally in the garbage.

"The WCRC survey demonstrates that consumers are willing to step up and take responsibility for their part in the product stewardship process. And when consumers are asked to pay a reasonable recycling fee, they will still continue to buy electronics from their local retailer," stated WCRC citizen activist Suellen Mele. "But they also want corporate manufacturers to be responsible for designing products that are environmentally-friendly as well as providing safe and convenient recycling programs."

The WCRC survey was written in cooperation with PRR, a Seattle consulting firm. The poll was fielded in August and included 407 King County residents, chosen at random from local residential phone listings. The overall margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 5 percent.

The findings of the WCRC study are particularly notable because they directly contradict an Electronic Industries Association (EIA) poll administered to a sample of online consumers between May 28 and June 3.

According to the EIA, a national trade organization that represents 80 percent of the U.S. electronics manufacturers, their poll results indicated that pre-paid recycling fees as low as $5 would reduce consumer likelihood to buy new electronic products. In addition, EIA reported that these consumers would choose to buy online, incurring additional shipping and handling costs, in order to avoid a pre-paid recycling fee at a retail store. EIA has asserted that consumers attempting to bypass recycling fees would significantly impact state sales tax revenues in states enacting pre-paid recycling. Despite heavy industry lobbying, the California legislature passed such a bill in mid-September, and similar bills are expected to be introduced in numerous states.

"Our survey directly contradicts results reported by an electronics industry survey conducted by the EIA," observed Mele. "It made no sense that consumers would rather pay significant shipping and handling charges to elude a much smaller fee that helps them and the environment. We wanted to check it ourselves."