States and E-Waste

THE NEW YEAR HAS BROUGHT a new round of e-waste legislation, and Washington might be the next state to adopt a bill addressing the handling of used electronic products. While several bills have been introduced, Senate Bill 6428 and its companion legislation House Bill 2662 have garnered the most sponsors. The bills are similar to the e-waste law that recently took effect in Maine, in that they would hold manufacturers responsible for financing the collecting, transferring and recycling of e-waste.

Under the bills, beginning in January 2009, manufacturers would have the option to either enroll in a state e-recycling system set up and controlled by the yet-to-be-established Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority or participate in an independent plan created by a manufacturer or group of manufacturers, subject to approval by the state Department of Ecology (DOE). If the authority decides on a per unit recycling fee to fund the state system, charges would be limited to $10 per device, a cost that potentially could be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher product pricing.

The Senate Bill Report cites supporters' arguments that the California law requiring customers to pay $6 to $10 per electronic product to reimburse recyclers and collectors has “angered consumers, unfairly prompting a backlash against retailers.” Meanwhile, opponents have responded that manufacturers “are not equipped to design electronic waste collection and recycling systems. Some manufacturers will be competitively disadvantaged,” the report says.

Among others, officials from RadioShack, Hewlett Packard, the Washington Retail Association and Amazon have testified in favor of the bill. Representatives from Panasonic, Sony Electronics and Sharp Electronics have offered opposing testimony.

The bills were prompted by a DOE report released in December 2005 that argues for an e-waste recycling system financed by manufacturers. The DOE estimated that between 2003 and 2010, more than 4.5 million computer processing units, 3.5 million cathode ray tube monitors and 1.5 million flat panel monitors in the state will become obsolete.

As states continue to propose and adopt e-waste legislation, some stakeholders remain focused on national standards. In January, for instance, the Davisville, W.V.-based National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) and the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association formed the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse (NERIC) with the stated purpose of helping develop a “national infrastructure for electronics recycling.”

“This initiative encompasses many of the important principles embraced by the NCER since its formation last year, which are active participation of the electronics industry, research and education on the benefits of multi-state harmonization of recycling systems, and cooperative action among public and private sector stakeholder groups,” said NCER executive director Jason Linnell in a press release.

NERIC's first projects will be to provide relevant information, such as projected collection rates and collection infrastructure models, to stakeholders and to research the viability of a private sector, third-party organization administering any national system, as opposed to a new government bureaucracy.