E-Wasting No Time

THE NATIONAL SOLID WASTES Management Association (NSWMA) in February issued a revised policy on the recycling and disposal of e-waste. The policy arrives just as many state and local governments are trying to discern the best way to stem the rising amount of e-waste entering landfills around the country.

The policy is intended to help state and federal governments develop long-term solutions for dealing with the growing e-waste stream, says Chaz Miller, director of state programs for NSWMA. The policy encourages manufacturers to take the initiative in addressing e-waste at the source. Suggestions include designing electronics with increased modularity to extend a device's useful life and researching feasible ways to decrease the amount of hazardous materials used to manufacture electronics.

The policy advocates that financial support for e-recycling be provided either by advance recycling fees paid by consumers when they purchase electronic products or by manufacturer financial responsibility requirements. It also opposes bans on the landfill disposal of electronics “until adequate infrastructure is readily available to ensure that they will be recycled.”

“It makes no sense to ban a material from disposal if there are no recycling markets for it,” Miller says.

Miller says the policy was revised to emphasize NSWMA's push for source reduction on the part of electronic manufacturers and to highlight the organization's opposition to unfunded recycling mandates for local governments and private sector waste haulers.

Meanwhile, St. Louis has become one of the latest major metropolitan areas to tackle the e-waste issue. After two years of research and planning, the E-Waste Stakeholders Work Group (EWSWG) — a taskforce comprised of city agencies, local nonprofit groups and private citizens — unveiled “E-Cycle St. Louis,” a two-pronged effort to curb the improper disposal of TV sets, computer monitors and other electronic waste.

The E-Cycle St. Louis program aims to solidify the city's recycling infrastructure while improving public education about the issue. Regional recycling partners are encouraged, but not required, to register with the program and abide by standards of operation. The companies then provide metrics on the material they collect, resident participation and other trends. The other component of the program seeks to educate residents so that they know what is recyclable and where it can be recycled.

The program is not publicly funded and requires residents to pay a small fee to dispose of some items. Nevertheless, Program Coordinator Laura Yates believes that St. Louis residents will embrace the effort. She cites an EWSWG survey indicating that nearly 50 percent of St. Louis County residents are willing to pay a fee to properly dispose of e-waste. “We think a meaningful number of households will do it if it's very convenient for them,” she says. “And we want to increase that convenience. It's the product stewardship concept in a nutshell.”

Product stewardship is what the San Francisco Board of Supervisors seems to have had in mind when, in February, it unanimously passed the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) resolution. The resolution supports statewide legislation and local initiatives that would require manufacturers to provide for the collection and recycling of their products at the end of their useful life. It specifically targets products such as batteries, electronic components and other toxic items California defines as “universal waste.” A statewide regulation banning universal waste from California landfills took effect in February.

A new bill introduced in the California assembly in late February would require manufacturers to phase out the use of hazardous materials in electronic or battery-operated devices. Miller calls this a step in the right direction and hopes the revised NSWMA guidelines will help promote similar initiatives around the country.