Deleting E-Waste

DURING THE PAST two years, numerous newspapers and television stories have focused on the management of electronic waste (e-waste), such as personal computers, televisions and cell phones. Usually, e-waste is considered a problem because ever-increasing amounts will be thrown away in the next few years. Additionally, many types of e-waste fail the toxic characteristic leachate procedure (TCLP) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's (RCRA) Subtitle C regulations.

Two states have banned e-waste disposal in Subtitle D landfills. Massachusetts has a wide-ranging ban, for which it created a grant fund for e-waste materials recycling. California bans cathode ray tubes (CRTs) from Subtitle D landfills. But the problem with California's restriction is that waste haulers and local governments are responsible for e-waste recycling costs.

Last year, California tried to add financial viability to its program through a $10 point-of-purchase recycling fee on certain electronic products, but the legislation was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis.

To help offset recycling's cost, Congress introduced legislation requiring a similar $10 fee when purchasing a laptop computer, notebook or monitor (H.R. 1165). However, most state and federal legislation dies without a hearing.

A decade ago, when states passed significant legislation requiring recycling, few states included financial support for their programs.

As a result, maintaining recycling programs and encouraging entrepreneurship for new recycling markets has been a continual struggle. The industry is hopeful that the knowledge gained from this experience will help to develop e-waste programs.

At the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA), members and staff recently approved an industry policy about e-waste disposal and recycling to help direct decisionmakers. The policy emphasizes that the waste industry supports mandated e-waste recycling, but only when the mandate is backed by sound financing.

NSWMA's policy discussed two ways that already exist to recycle e-waste. The first approach is called “take-back” legislation, through which product manufacturers are responsible for receiving used electronic products and guaranteeing their safe recycling or disposal. The second method uses an “advance recycling fee,” which consumers pay at purchase time, to fund the recycling of electronic products. The key to these programs is that recycling becomes financially viable, the cost is distributed fairly to the users of the products and the entities that know best how to re-use such materials are the ones who receive them.

The four components of developing good e-waste and recycling programs are outlined in NSWMA's policy:

  • Build upon existing solid waste and recycling infrastructure for e-waste collection and processing.

  • Provide financial support for e-waste recycling through advance recycling fees or take-back provisions.

  • Ensure environmental, health and safety standards for the proper management of collected materials, including reporting and documentation procedures for end-markets.

  • Support programs that develop new processing technologies and new markets, including those that use recycled content in new electronic products. Also, in the case of take-back programs, support those that rate and date e-waste to ensure accountability.

  • Eventually, e-waste recycling will be the subject of national legislation, allowing manufacturers and distributors to create more financially viable programs as opposed to separate plans for individual states. And to the extent that states decide to move forward with their individual e-waste recycling programs, the waste industry will continue to work with decision-makers in understanding how to make sense of the options.

    For more information on NSWMA's policy and recycling efforts, contact Chaz Miller, director of state programs toll-free at (800) 424-2869 or e-mail

    Alice P. Jacobsohn is the EIA's manager of public affairs and industry research.