It's the Law

Pennsylvania mandates e-waste recycling.

In late November, Pennsylvania joined the group of states that mandate e-waste recycling when Gov. Ed Rendell signed a bill (H.B. 708) requiring electronics manufacturers to create programs to recycle e-waste. The law, known as a producer responsibility law, is slated to take effect in late January.

With Rendell’s signature, Pennsylvania became the 24th state to require the recycling of certain types of e-waste. According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, 65 percent of those living in the United States now live in a state that has an e-waste recycling law.

“The disposal of these electronic devices is potentially hazardous to the environment and while some manufacturers and communities have taken steps to address the disposal problem, there was no statewide solution until now,” said Pennsylvania State Rep. Chris Ross, R-Chester, who sponsored H.B. 708. “This legislation will make recycling e-waste much more convenient for residents and small businesses, while allowing manufacturers the opportunity to develop recycling programs that are cost effective.”

According to Pennsylvania’s law, the manufacturers of television, desktop and notebook computers, and computer monitors must register with the state Department of Environmental Protection within six months of the law taking effect and pay a $5,000 registration fee. The manufacturers will have to renew their registration annually after that and also will have to create and implement plans to collect and recycle the covered devices. The manufacturers will be responsible for recycling an amount based on their market share and will have to submit annual reports.

E-waste legislation has been making news recently. New York, South Carolina and Vermont also passed e-waste recycling laws in 2010. All three states are implementing producer responsibility laws, and the manufacturers’ recycling programs are slated to begin next year.

As Waste Age columnist Chaz Miller notes in “2010 Redux” (p. 16), the 24 state e-waste laws create “a hodgepodge of e-cycling requirements and [add] pressure on Congress to pass a national law.” That national law may not be soon in coming, though. “Until e-cycling stakeholders agree on a solution, Congress will not act,” Miller writes.

On the federal level, U.S. Reps. Gene Green, D-Texas, and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., introduced The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (H.R. 6252) in September. The congressmen say the bill is necessary because developing nations that receive used electronics from U.S. companies often do not have the infrastructure needed to safely process the products and minimize their environmental impact.

The bill would create a new section to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that would ban the export of certain kinds of e-waste to developing nations. The legislation would permit “tested and working” electronics to be exported to a developing nation to promote reuse, but items such as non-functioning computers, televisions and printers would not be allowed to be exported. Other electronics that would be allowed to be sent overseas include items that are under warranty and are being returned to the manufacturing facility that produced them, and electronics that are being recalled.

According to Thompson and Green, their bill has the support of manufacturers such as Dell, Apple and Samsung as well as the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and The Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has criticized H.R. 6252. “Unfortunately, a number of bad actors around the world that engage in illegal pollution have placed a vibrant, established global recycling infrastructure in jeopardy,” ISRI said in its statement on the bill. “The recycling industry strongly opposes illegal or irresponsible recycling. However, calling for a complete ban on the export of recycled electronics from the U.S. is a ‘red herring.’ Ceasing all exports to developing countries is not the solution to addressing illegal pollution outside of the U.S.”