Paying for E-waste

AFTER THREE YEARS of searching for common ground, the National Electronics Stewardship Program Initiative (NEPSI) found itself one step closer to developing a nationwide system for managing the disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) at its meeting in February.

In past meetings, the organization's members, which include 45 electronics manufacturers, environmental groups, retailers and recyclers, have been unable to agree on a national financing system to pay for the recycling of electronic goods. However, at the February meeting in Portland, NEPSI participants decided to let electronics manufacturers devise an equitable financing plan. Once the plan is complete, NEPSI's members then will reconvene to finalize an industry-wide agreement.

However, the Electronic Industry Alliance (EIA), Arlington, Va., believes it will be difficult for the electronics manufacturing companies to reach a consensus. The sticking point is whether e-waste recycling will be funded by an advanced recovery fee or by allowing companies to create alternative plans to manage costs.

“EIA is optimistic that, in time, industry manufacturers will be able to reach consensus on the issues of financing,” says Heather Bowman, EIA director of Environmental Affairs. “If we make this overall framework a part of any legislation introduced in Congress, we're confident we can make electronics recycling efforts more effective and sustainable.”

EIA's environmental affairs department hopes to present the financing plan to all NEPSI members in mid-April. But reaching an agreement could take longer depending on members' schedules, Bowman says. Nevertheless, once all of NEPSI's stakeholders meet to put the finishing touches on the agreement's language, the package will be sent through the congressional process. Bowman predicts the process may take anywhere from two to three years to complete.

So in the interim, NEPSI stakeholders will begin to develop an infrastructure to better enhance local programs to collect and recycle computers and other e-waste.

“No one wanted to do all of this work for a national system and then have people sitting on their hands,” says Catherine Wilt, NEPSI coordinator and policy director for the Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “We don't want to wait until we have an ultimate piece of federal legislation because it can take a significant amount of time.”

In the long term, NEPSI members hope the United States will follow in the footsteps of Europe, Asia, Japan and Canada that already have established national e-waste laws and enacted federal legislation. This would negate the need for state-by-state product disposal requirements.

“I think that [NEPSI] has been a tremendous learning process for everyone involved. Ideally, I think we will have a national agreement. Hopefully it will serve as a model for future product stewardship dialogue,” Wilt says.