States Take on E-Waste Problem

States Take on E-Waste Problem

Bills to solve the problem of what do to with the mounting piles of electronic waste are already under consideration in 21 state legislatures, plus the city of New York. Bills are expected to be introduced soon in at least three more states, meaning that half of the U.S. states are currently actively trying to solve the e-waste problem in some way.

Electronic waste is a major problem across the country, especially as technology becomes cheaper to produce, and thus more "disposable." The EPA estimates that of the 2.63 million tons of electronic waste that was disposed of in 2005, only 12.5 percent of it, or 330,000 pounds, was recovered for recycling. The other 87.5 percent ended up in landfills or incinerators.

The Computer Take Back Campaign estimates that more than 315 million computers will soon become obsolete, and may be destined for landfills. Those computers alone contain a total of more than 1.2 billion pounds of lead. About 40% of the heavy metals, including lead, mercury and cadmium, in landfills come from electronic equipment discards.

The most controversial issue facing state policymakers in dealing with e-waste is deciding whether manufacturers or consumers will pay for e-waste recycling programs. Four states have already passed laws to create e-waste recycling programs: Maine, Maryland, California, and Washington State. Three of them created "producer responsibility" programs, mandating that the manufacturers pay for collection and recycling e-waste.

Only California has passed a law charging consumer fees, called "Advanced Recycling Fees," or ARFs, at the time products are purchased. While producer responsibility advocates acknowledge that consumers ultimately pay under either approach, they assert that producer-financed takeback programs can leverage design changes, making electronics more recyclable and less toxic.

Of the 21 states/cities with bills pending, 15 of them have introduced producer responsibility bills: Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland (where the bill would expand an existing program), Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and New York City. Four of these states have also introduced ARF bills: Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and New Jersey.

Robin Schneider, Vice-Chair of the Computer TakeBack Campaign, said, "We see the momentum swinging strongly in favor of the producer responsibility solution in the states. We support this approach because it meets two important goals -- making more recycling happen, and giving the manufacturers an incentive to make their products less toxic and more recyclable. If we don't address both goals, then we are not solving the problem."

There are recent signs that industry support is dwindling for charging consumers for e-waste recycling. Samsung and IBM recently withdrew from a coalition of television companies who lobby against producer responsibility bills, and in favor of ARF bills. Calling itself the "Electronics Manufacturers Coalition for Responsible Recycling," the coalition is lead by Panasonic, Sharp, and Philips. IBM testified at a committee hearing in favor of the producer responsibility bill in Minnesota last Thursday, where in the past they have opposed the same language.

"We are glad to see that Samsung and IBM have withdrawn from the ARF coalition," said Sheila Dormody, Director of Clean Water Action, Rhode Island. "Next, we'd like to see Sony and LG take the same step, to join with Dell and HP and show consumers that they are responsible companies who want to promote producer takeback, not fight it."