A Little Less Taxing

ANOTHER ELECTRONIC (e-waste) recycling bill has landed on Capitol Hill. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jim Talent, R-Mo., have introduced the Electronic Waste Recycling and Promotion and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (S-510). The multi-pronged legislation, introduced in March, would provide tax credits to businesses and consumers. The bill is designed to reward the recycling of computers and display screens, such as monitors and televisions, and could lead to a ban on the disposal of certain electronic devices in municipal landfills.

Under the bill, businesses that collect e-waste from consumers and recycle at least 5,000 display screens and/or computers per year would be eligible for a $8 per unit tax credit. Consumers that give at least one display screen or computer per year to a qualified recycler would receive a $15 tax credit.

If passed, the bill also would impose a ban on the disposal of computers and electronics containing a display screen larger than 4 inches in landfills and incinerators. The ban, which would begin three years after the bill is signed into law, only would take effect if the administrator of the Washington-based U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes that a majority of households have access to e-waste recycling.

Furthermore, the legislation would order the EPA administrator to study the feasibility of creating a nationwide e-waste recycling program that would preempt any state's program. The bill would mandate that the federal government recycle each display screen and computer unit that it purchases.

In introducing the measure, Wyden and Talent cited concerns about the environmental effects of landfilling computers and televisions. Approximately 2 million tons of e-waste make their way into landfills each year, according to the EPA. Environmental groups worry that toxic substances in e-waste could harm human health and the environment. However, there is “no evidence whatsoever that e-waste causes an environmental or a health problem in a Subtitle D landfill,” says Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA).

NSWMA does not support bans on landfilling e-waste, according to Miller, but he says that the use of tax credits to stimulate e-recycling is “an interesting approach.” He says that NSWMA often does not take an official position on a bill until hearings are held.

John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md., says his organization will support the bill only if it is altered to provide financial incentives for local governments that collect obsolete electronics. For instance, the bill could be amended so that local governments could receive the tax credits and then sell them to a taxpayer, he says.

In January, U.S. Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., introduced the National Computer Recycling Act (HR-425), which would impose an upfront fee on the sale of computers and other electronic devices to fund an electronics recycling grant program.