Move over, Arnold. The Nation's First E-Waste Law is Ready for Action

BEFORE BEING TERMINATED by the Terminator, former California Gov. Gray Davis signed the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 into law on Sept. 27, representing the nation's first electronics recycling law.

Striving to create a community that better manages the more than 10,000 computers and TVs that become obsolete in California each day, the law Davis approved includes several main provisions. Beginning on July 1, 2004, consumers will pay a $6 to $10 fee on electronic products with 4-inch and larger video display screens, which also applies to mail order and Internet sales.

If a retailer does not impose the required fee on qualifying electronic goods, the Sacramento-based California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) can assign penalties up to $7,500 per violation. Revenues from the recycling fee and penalties will be placed into an Electronic Waste and Recycling account that covers the operating costs of e-waste drop-off sites.

The new law also requires that electronics manufacturers annually report to the CIWMB approximate sales of applicable products, the amount of hazardous materials used in making the goods, and what effort has been made to reduce hazardous waste and design more recyclable electronics.

Additionally, before any e-waste is exported, 60 days advance notice must be given to the Sacramento-based California Environmental Protection Agency's Department of Toxic Substances and Control (DTSC). E-waste exporters also must demonstrate that it is legal to send used electronics to the importing country where it will be managed in an environmentally proper way.

The new recycling law still faces controversy, however. The Basel Action Network (BAN), an activist group that attempts to stop international toxic waste, states that the law fails to make the electronics industry more responsible for managing its defunct products.

The law only deals with computer monitors and TVs and does not make manufacturers “take back” or recycle their products. BAN says the law lacks a market-based incentive for the production of less toxic waste. “Not only does the [law] fail miserably to make producers responsible for cleaning up their act and producing less toxic [e-waste],” says Jim Puckett, coordinator for BAN, “but more waste than ever before will likely be exported.”

Controversy aside, many in the waste industry say the law is a good start. Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Industry Associations (EIA), says banning disposal of e-waste in California encourages public and private haulers to recycle. “This is no longer an unfunded mandate, and we think it will make e-waste recycling viable.”

Whether other states will follow California's lead on e-waste legislation remains to be seen. “It probably will be looked at by other states and used as a model if it is successful,” says John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), Silver Spring, Md. “What you don't want is a series of different state laws, which would be hard for the industry to comply with.”