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Industry Pushes for Federal Electronic Waste Recycling Program in Response to Increased State Regulation

June 20, 2007

The rise of state-level rules requiring the private sector to develop, implement, and pay for electronic waste recycling programs has prompted the Electronic Industry Alliance (EIA) to propose federal legislation establishing a national framework for manufacturer-led electronic waste recycling.[1] Oregon recently became the seventh state to require electronics manufacturers to pay for the collection and recycling of consumer electronic products. In May, both houses of the Oregon legislature unanimously passed an electronic waste recycling bill, H.B. 2626, which Governor Kulongoski signed into law on June 7, 2007.[2] Meanwhile in Washington state, the Department of Ecology continues to develop electronic waste recycling rules. Like Oregon’s new law and existing rules in Washington and other states, EIA’s proposal would require manufacturers to fund computer and monitor recycling. Similar to California’s electronic waste program, EIA’s proposal would also require consumers to fund television recycling by a nominal point-of-sale fee and prohibit manufacturers from selling covered electronic products containing certain hazardous substances.

Oregon’s H.B. 2626

Oregon’s new electronic waste recycling requirements broadly apply to manufacturers of computers and televisions. Specifically, manufacturers who sell televisions and computer monitors with a viewable area greater than 4-inches measured diagonally, and desktop and portable computers (known as Covered Electronic Products, or CEPs)[3] will be required to provide free and convenient recycling services for Oregon households, businesses and non-profits that employ ten or fewer individuals, or any person who drops off seven or fewer CEPs at one time.[4] Alternatively, manufacturers can elect to pay a fee to the state and participate in a recycling program developed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ).[5] Personal electronic devices such as cell phones, PDAs, and MP-3 players are explicitly exempted, as are most household appliances.[6]

Before January 1st of each year, manufacturers must assess their status under the new law. Manufacturers selling CEPs in Oregon must register with the ODEQ and pay a registration fee based on the percentage of CEPs sold in the state.[7] Each year, manufacturers must also elect whether they will participate in the state contractor system or implement their own collection program.[8] Manufacturers electing to implement an independent collection program (or a coordinated program with other manufacturers) must annually submit a plan to the ODEQ that describes how it will finance, manage, and conduct its program, and provide for environmentally sound management practices to collect, transport, and recycle CEPs.[9] Manufacturers must provide convenient service in every county of the state and in any city with a population of at least 10,000 people.[10]

Manufacturers are also required to permanently affix a brand label to all CEPs they sell in Oregon.[11] Oregon retailers are prohibited from selling CEPs that are not permanently labeled.[12] Manufacturers who fail to register with ODEQ, label CEPs, or provide recycling services, and retailers who sell un-labeled CEPs are subject to a $10,000 per day fine.[13] Persons disposing of CEPs at a solid waste facility rather than an approved recycling point will be subject to a $500 per CEP fine.[14] The Oregon statute law will become effective on January 1, 2009.[15]

Washington Continues with Electronic Waste Recycling Rulemaking

In Washington state, the Department of Ecology (Ecology) continues to develop electronic waste recycling rules. In 2006, Washington enacted a mandatory electronic waste recycling program which requires manufacturers of computers, monitors, televisions, and other electronic products to provide no-cost recycling services to consumers throughout the state.[16] For a summary of Washington’s electronic waste recycling law, please see Bradley Marten, “Washington Legislature Mandates Mandatory Recycling of Consumer Electronics: Bill Sent to Governor” Marten Law Group Environmental News (Mar. 15, 2006).

Ecology is developing regulations implementing the new law in two stages to coincide with deadlines imposed by the law. Ecology issued its Phase I final rules in December 2006, which required, among other things, manufacturers to register with Ecology and label all CEPs[17] sold in the state by January 2007.[18]

Ecology is currently developing the Phase II rules, which implement the portions of the law not covered by the Phase I rules, including development of recycling plans; requirements for manufacturers, retailers, collectors, transporters, and plan implementers; performance standards for processors; and warnings, penalties, and violations associated with the rules.[19] The public comment period for the draft Phase II rules closed on May 22, 2007, and Ecology’s final Phase II rules are expected in August 2007.

EIA Proposes National Recycling Program

Seven states, including Washington, Oregon, and California, now have electronic waste recycling programs, and electronics recycling bills were introduced in 22 other states in 2007. In response to the proliferating state programs, EIA, whose members include Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Sharp, recently released a proposed framework for federal legislation establishing a national electronic waste recycling program.[20]

Similar to the programs in Oregon and other states, EIA’s proposed program would require electronic manufactures to provide recycling services for consumer electronic products. However, the EIA proposal would provide separate frameworks for televisions and information technology (IT) products such as desktop and laptop computers and monitors because those products have a different lifespan. According to EIA, televisions have an expected lifespan of 15 to 17 years and are generally purchased by individual consumers from retailers. IT products, on the other hand, have a six to eight year lifespan and are more often purchased directly from manufacturers.

Under EIA’s proposal, television collection and recycling would be performed by an industry-sponsored third party, and the program would be financed by a point-of-purchase consumer fee. In contrast, IT products would be collected and recycled via programs individually or collectively established and funded by manufacturers. IT manufacturers would be required to offer reasonably convenient recycling services as a condition of selling IT products. Recycling programs for both televisions and IT products would be required to establish and comply with environmentally-sound management and business practices.

Additionally, EIA’s proposal would require all covered electronic devices to meet the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS). The RoHS standards would prohibit manufacturers from selling covered electronic devices containing lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). California’s electronic waste recycling program similarly prohibits the sale of covered electronic products containing lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, but does not regulate PBBs or PBDEs.[21]

Rick Goss, EIA’s vice president of environmental affairs, stated that unified federal electronic waste recycling standards are preferable to a state-by-state approach. “[A] patchwork of 50 state laws would impose significant compliance costs on manufacturers and ultimately force some consumers to pay more for these products without any commensurate environmental benefit.”[22] EIA has delivered copies of its proposal to the Bush Administration, federal lawmakers, state officials, industry stakeholders, and environmental NGOs.

[1] California, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Texas, and Washington currently have electronics waste recycling programs. See “Texas and Oregon Legislatures Pass Electronics Recycling Bills” (May 30, 2007).

[2] A-Engrossed House Bill 2626.

[3] “Manufacturer” includes any person who: (1) manufactures a CEP under a brand that it owns or licenses; (2) sells CEPs manufactured by others under a brand that it owns; (3) manufactures CEPs without affixing a brand; (4) manufactures CEPs under a brand it does not own; or (5) on whose account CEPs are manufactured outside of, and imported into, the United States. HB 2626, § 2(3).

[4] Id. at §§ 3(4), 5(1).

[5] Id. at § 10.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at § 4(1).

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at § 5(1).

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at § 3(3).

[12] Id. at §9.

[13] Id. at §16(1).

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at § 19.

[16] Chapter 70.95N Revised Code of Washington.

[17] Washington’s definition of “CEP” is similar to Oregon’s, and includes desktop and laptop computers, and televisions and computer monitors with screens diagonally measuring 4-inches or greater. RCW 70.95N.020(6).

[18] WAC 173-900-040, -200; see also Bradley Marten, “Washington State Set to Issue Aggressive Rules for Recycling Electronic Waste” Marten Law Group Environmental News (Aug. 2, 2006).

[19] See Ecology Informal Public Draft 2 for WAC 173-900.

[20] EIA Legislative Framework for Electronic Recycling.

[21] See California Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 (SB 20).

[22] EIA Press Release (May 24, 2007).

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