Lake E-Wastebegone

MINNESOTA HAS BECOME the fifth state to pass an e-waste recycling law. In May, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a bill requiring manufacturers of televisions, computer monitors and other video display devices to collect and pay for the recycling of a certain percentage of the products they sell. Manufacturers that fail to do so will be forced to pay fines to the state.

The state had seen an increase in illegal dumping from residents since the statewide landfill ban on electronics containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs) took effect in July 2006. The ban included no programs or funding for recycling the banned e-waste.

Prior to passage of the most recent e-waste legislation, recycling efforts were conducted on a county-by-county basis and were voluntary, says Brian McClung, director of communications for Gov. Pawlenty. Many residents resorted to illegal dumping in roadside ditches to avoid the end-of-life fee charged by recyclers.

According to a press release from Sen. Linda Higgins (D-Minn.), e-waste containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs) is the most significant source of lead in Minnesota's municipal waste stream.

Higgins and Rep. Brita Sailer (D-Minn.) were the chief authors of the legislation that encourages manufacturers to devise their own recycling programs and work with counties to ensure collection.

“I've spent the past five years working with electronics manufacturers, retailers, environmental groups and local communities to craft legislation that protects our environment without placing too big a burden on the business community,” said Higgins in a press release.

The new legislation passed with minimal opposition, receiving a 114-16 passing vote in the House and a 63-1 vote in the Senate. It also enjoyed broad support from many stakeholder organizations and businesses including IBM, Best Buy, 3M, the Consumer Electronics Retail Coalition, the Minnesota Resource Recovery Center and the Solid Waste Administers Association.

According to an April 2007 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2005 used or unwanted electronics amounted to between 1.9 and 2.2 million tons. Of that amount, between 1.5 million and 1.9 million tons were discarded in landfills and only 345,000 to 379,000 tons were recycled. Minnesota joins California, Maryland, Maine and Washington as the only states to pass e-waste recycling laws.

In the first year of the new law, manufacturers will be required to recycle 60 percent of the weight of e-waste sold during the previous year. After the first year, they will be required to recycle 80 percent. Companies that fail to meet their obligations will be fined based on the percentage of the obligation that wasn't met. The law also includes incentives for those who meet the recycling obligation. Specifically, the company would receive a 1.5-pound credit for every pound recycled outside of Minnesota's metropolitan areas.

Both manufacturers and recyclers are required to register with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which will handle the funds of the state's electronic waste account, report on implementation, publicize the program and recommend changes to the next legislature. Manufacturers will be charged a registration fee of $5,000 for the first year and $2,500 for each subsequent year. There is also a discounted registration fee of $1,250 for manufacturers that produce less than 100 video display devices each year.

The legislation is expected to collect $800,000 from manufacturers in 2008 and $400,000 in each subsequent year. The majority of the funds will be used to implement programs for local government units.

McClung says Minnesota's legislation wasn't necessarily modeled after measures in other states. “Ours is a little different,” he says. “If it works well, other states will use this as a model.”