When the Washington state Senate passed a bill in February establishing a system for recycling electronics such as computers and televisions, it charted a new course in e-waste regulation. If it becomes law, the bill will require manufacturers selling electronic products in the state to either develop their own e-recycling plans or participate in a state-sponsored recycling program.
The bill has garnered support because it achieves a balance between the interests of companies that prefer to minimize their involvement in recycling processes and those that already have a recycling program in place. At the same time, however, the bill adds yet another novel regulatory approach to an increasingly discordant national e-waste policy landscape.
"There are a lot of different perspectives in play, and different business models," says Parker Brugge, senior director and environmental counsel with the Consumer Electronics Association in Virginia. "A computer manufacturer can develop a recycling operation into its business model, but it doesn't necessarily work for televisions. Our members don't want to be forced to become recyclers."
As a result of disagreements among stakeholders, efforts to create national e-waste policies have largely run aground. The EPA has rejected calls for it to promulgate federal standards, and Congressional legislative efforts remain fairly nascent. As a result, many U.S. states are moving forward on their own. Nine U.S. states enacted e-waste laws in 2005, with California, Maine and Maryland establishing formal e-waste recycling programs. And 38 other states have e-waste legislation pending.
Sorting Out The Mess
Reconciling inconsistencies in state and international policies is a rising priority among electronics manufacturers and retailers. As more jurisdictions adopt varying approaches, companies will face increasing costs and complexities in trying to comply with these laws.