The CE industry is the guinea pig in a relatively new legal and environmental concept called “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR). EPR experiments are now underway in half of the states in an attempt to shift some, or all, responsibility for managing products when they reach end-of-life onto product manufacturers. This means moving the burden from local governments onto CE manufacturers. Considering the roughly $150 million our industry spends on CE recycling annually, the shift in burden is clearly happening. These laws also theoretically inspire more environmentally sensitive and favorable designs for recycling; however, results from these EPR experiments to date show that better design for the environment because of takeback mandates is not happening.
The pause since 2011 in enactment of new state legislation may be ending. This summer the District of Columbia City Council pushed through a new e-waste mandate as part of a Zero Waste campaign—only listening to our industry’s suggestions during the last two frantic weeks of the legislative sausage-making process. Uprisings among municipalities and local recyclers in states with already onerous e-waste laws like New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are calling for even more burdensome and higher cost mandates. And new legislative pressures are building in states as varied as Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska. Is this state-focused e-waste legislation on the right track?
We don’t think so. If all the state e-waste experiments have taught our industry one thing it is that sustainable CE recycling systems must be market-based, have minimal paperwork requirements, establish reasonable obligations on CE manufacturers and truly be a shared responsibility. The systems also need the ability to evolve as quickly as CE products and markets evolve. Unfortunately, many of the existing 25 state laws fail on all of these counts. We need a federal framework that provides the model for states clamoring to join in this great experiment.