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Would a Federal Law Help Recyclers, Manufacturers’ E-Waste Management?

e-wasteAs companies and waste management officials struggle with what to do about the growing volume of e-waste, Electronic Recyclers International points out one major reason why e-waste recycling and reuse is struggling in the US.

“There is no US federal law that requires the recycling of electronic waste or prohibits it from being exported to developing countries,” according to an article on Knowledge@Wharton, in collaboration with Electronic Recyclers International. “Some in Congress have tried to pass a bill that would make the overseas dumping of toxic e-waste illegal, but the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) has been stuck in a House subcommittee for more than two years.”

The article says while the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act covers some e-waste, most electronic components that are exported for recycling are exempted, with the exception of cathode-ray tubes (CRTs).

And CRTs, used in TVs and computer monitors, have their own set of problems. They are expensive to recycle and there is no market for their components. Because of this, recycling companies now charge for CRTs.

Earlier this year Best Buy changed its in-store e-waste recycling program, charging customers $25 for each TV and computer monitor they recycle at its stores, because it is losing money on the program. And largely because of CRT recycling issues, at a February hearing New York lawmakers said the statewide e-waste recycling law is costing local governments too much money and “not working as intended.”

While 27 states and the District of Columbia have e-recycling laws on the books, 22 states don’t — and state laws fall short because of lack of funding or loopholes in take-back mandates, according to the Knowledge@Wharton article. But there are some lessons learned from various state programs, according to Electronics TakeBack Coalition. These include:

  1. Make requirements specific.
  2. Encourage rural collection.
  3. Ban e-waste from landfills.
  4. Don’t let recycling discourage reuse.
  5. Make the scope of collection as broad as possible.

Still, as the article notes, varying state laws make it difficult and expensive for manufacturers, and there are some issues only a federal law can address: “Federal legislation could jump-start dramatic progress in the reduction, reuse and recycling of e-waste.”

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