PC Recycling on Congressional Agenda - Again
Feb 8, 2005 8:00 AM PT
Congressman Mike Thompson is hoping three times is the charm for his legislation to create a national recycling program for electronic waste.
The California Democrat has twice before filed bills to establish national standards for handling e-waste only to see them whither and die in a parliamentary backwater.
"Over 3,000 tons of electronics are discarded everyday in our country," Thompson, who filed his measure with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York), said in a statement. "Obsolete computers are taking up space in closets, warehouses and landfills and each of these computers contains dangerous materials such as lead and chromium which pose a significant risk to human health and the environment."
Consumers Foot the Bill
In the same statement, Slaughter added: "Electronic waste is growing exponentially as more Americans are upgrading their computer equipment every few years. But with federal regulators slow to implement a comprehensive e-waste reduction program, Congressional action is necessary to curb the rising tide of this toxic waste."
Thompson's measure -- a copy of which was provided to TechNewsWorld by the Congressman's office -- would require consumers to pay a fee on all computers, CRT monitors or other devices designated by federal regulators.
The bill caps the fee at US$10 and allows collectors of the fee to pocket three percent of it to pay for administrative costs.
Sales of used computers by non-profit organizations are exempt from the bill's fee provisions. In addition, regulators can exempt sales that will "likely result in the maximum reuse of significant components."
Another recycling measure is also expected to be filed in the Senate by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden. That bill would create tax incentives for recycling e-waste.
Thompson's legislation is similar to a law in California that took effect January 1. That statute requires consumers to pay recycling fees ranging from $6 to $10 on CRT monitors and TVs and reimburses recyclers 28 cents a pound to recycle the e-waste.
California and Maine are the only two states with e-waste recycling laws. Maine's law bills manufacturers of CRT monitors and TVs for handling and recycling the devices.
Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment in Austin, explained that two competing models are emerging for recycling e-waste. One, reflected in the Thompson bill, requires consumers to pick up the tab for recycling; the other, the Maine model, compels manufacturers to pay for it.
Sawbuck Not Enough
"We favor the approach of the Maine model, which is that electronic producers are responsible for the end of life of their equipment," Schneider told TechNewsWorld.
She noted that legislation embodying that approach is currently being considered in Minnesota, Rhode Island and Massachusetts and will be introduced in Texas.
"We don't think the $10 fee in the Thompson bill is going to be adequate to take care of the problem," she maintained.
Moreover, she argued that consumer fees remove incentives for manufacturers to make hardware that can be completely recycled. With a flat fee, if a manufacturer's product is totally biodegradable and recyclable or can't be recycled at all, the cost to them is the same. "That's not fair," she said.
Asked about the chances for passage of the e-waste bill this year, Thompson spokesperson Matt Gerien told TechNewsWorld: "The issue has grown larger over the years and has gotten a lot more attention. People on the Hill and across the country are realizing that e-waste is a problem that needs to be dealt with."
If the Thompson bill fails a third time, recycling proponents won't be crestfallen. "We have a better shot at getting more states to pass a producer responsibility approach and to get that up and running in a few places, rather than to push right now at the national level," Schneider said.