PC Recycling on Congressional Agenda – Again

Congressman Mike Thompson is hoping three times is the charm for hislegislation to create a national recycling program for electronic waste.

The California Democrat has twice before filed bills to establish nationalstandards for handling e-waste only to see them whither and die in aparliamentary 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 dangerousmaterials such as lead and chromium which pose a significant risk to humanhealth and the environment.”

Consumers Foot the Bill

In the same statement, Slaughter added: “Electronic waste is growingexponentially as more Americans are upgrading their computer equipment everyfew years. But with federal regulators slow to implement a comprehensivee-waste reduction program, Congressional action is necessary to curb therising tide of this toxic waste.”

Thompson’s measure — a copy of which was provided to TechNewsWorld by theCongressman’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 pocketthree percent of it to pay for administrative costs.

Sales of used computers by non-profit organizations are exempt from thebill’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 OregonDemocrat Ron Wyden. That bill would create tax incentives for recyclinge-waste.

Dualing Models

Thompson’s legislation is similar to a law in California that took effectJanuary 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 poundto 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 andrecycling the devices.

Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for theEnvironment in Austin, explained that two competing models are emerging forrecycling e-waste. One, reflected in the Thompson bill, requiresconsumers 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 electronicproducers are responsible for the end of life of their equipment,” Schneidertold TechNewsWorld.

She noted that legislation embodying that approach is currently beingconsidered in Minnesota, Rhode Island and Massachusetts and will beintroduced in Texas.

“We don’t think the $10 fee in the Thompson bill is going to be adequate totake care of the problem,” she maintained.

Fees Unfair?

Moreover, she argued that consumer fees remove incentives for manufacturersto make hardware that can be completely recycled. With a flat fee, if amanufacturer’s product is totally biodegradable and recyclable or can’t berecycled 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, Thompsonspokesperson Matt Gerien told TechNewsWorld: “The issue has grown largerover the years and has gotten a lot more attention. People on the Hill andacross the country are realizing that e-waste is a problem that needs to bedealt with.”

If the Thompson bill fails a third time, recycling proponents won’t becrestfallen. “We have a better shot at getting more states to pass aproducer responsibility approach and to get that up and running in a fewplaces, rather than to push right now at the national level,” Schneidersaid.

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