Federal Report Calls For Uniform, National System For Recycling Electronics

A uniform national system of electronics recycling is preferred by stakeholders to a patchwork of differing state systems, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration stated.

In a report released on July 18, the Technology Administration noted that stakeholders face a patchwork of international and state laws that can affect the manufacture, marketing and business models of the U.S. electronics sector, as well as the transaction costs and business models of our retail sector. More than 10 countries have laws on recycling discarded electronics and more are developing legislation. In the United States, five states have banned the disposal of cathode ray tubes from television and computer monitors in landfills. Four states have passed statewide electronics recycling laws, yet each has very different requirements for manufacturers, retailers, local governments and consumers.

On July 12, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Director Steven E. Chester announced that the state has partnered with four other Midwest states to develop a regional policy for managing electronic waste. The Midwest policy closely mirrors model legislation being introduced in Northeast states in which electronics manufacturers will collect, transport and recycle a specific amount of electronic products based on their sales within the state. 

The Technology Administration's Office of Technology Policy (OTP) held a public roundtable of stakeholders in September 2004 -- including manufacturers, retailers, recyclers and environmental organizations -- and solicited further public comments in a Federal Register notice on the following issues: which products should be included in a recycling program for household electronics; methods for collection, transportation and recycling; the development and financing of a system for recycling used electronics; and the role of government in a recycling program.

There were many areas of agreement among stakeholders that could form a basis for potential consensus, the Technology Administration stated. While the stakeholders agreed a uniform system was needed, some parties believed it could be achieved through voluntary stakeholder consensus or through state legislation. Others believed national legislation was needed.

Recommendations in the report include:

Product Coverage

  • Define covered products clearly to eliminate guesswork and lengthy negotiations between producers and retailers.

Collection

  • Provide flexibility for local and regional solutions in collection methods, such as using collection incentive payments, not mandates or a centrally prescribed collection process.

Recycling

  • Treat residential and commercial electronics waste the same.
  • Set environmentally sound management guidelines for recycling -- such as EPA's guidelines for the Plug-In to eCycling program -- and provide a system of auditing to ensure that dismantlers and recyclers are evaluated against these guidelines.

Financing

  • Agree on one financing mechanism to apply across the country.
  • Establish procedures to oversee and enforce the system to ensure fairness and uniform participation, regardless of the financing system chosen.
  • Build competition and market forces into the system from the beginning in order to keep costs low.

Minimizing Compliance Costs and Maximizing Participation

  • Standardize product labeling requirements, product literature requirements, information on packaging requirements, and reporting requirements so producers face only one set of requirements for compliance across the country.
  • Include industry in the development of any design standards or material bans, if they are part of any legislation.
  • Ensure a level playing field for all manufacturers, including manufacturers who sell over the Internet and foreign manufacturers.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), which played host to Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology Robert C. Cresanti as he announced the release of the study, said it welcomed the report.

"This report will help policymakers understand the complexities of electronics recycling so that legislative or regulatory proposals strengthen, rather than hinder, the marketplace for these materials," ISRI President Robin Wiener said.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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