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January 19, 2006

Take That? Take Back (e-Waste)!

ComputersTrue to its state motto, dirigo, Maine is leading the nation in electronic waste management. Yesterday a law went into effect that requires TV and computer monitor manufacturers to take responsibility for the proper disposal of their products.

TVs and monitors need to be recycled because they contain toxic lead and mercury. But only a few states have e-waste programs where those who profit from the products also pay the disposal costs. In California, consumers pay a small fee at the time of purchase to help defray the cost of recycling later. In Maryland, manufacturers pay a fixed annual fee into a recycling trust fund.

While these are great starts, I suspect that neither of these programs covers the full costs of disposal. Maine's law is great because it places the full cost where it belongs: on makers and users of the product, instead of on general taxpayers. In this way it also creates powerful incentives  (read: market economics) for manufacturers to build products that use less toxic materials in the first place and that are easier to recycle at the end of their life.

Here in Cascadia e-waste producer responsibility is still in the works. British Columbia (pdf) intends to have a program in place by mid 2007. Washington has two bills in the current legislative session. And Oregon (pdf) had a bill in 2005 to charge consumers a fee up front, although the bill died in session. Stay tuned to find out what happens with e-waste recycling in the Northwest.

Posted by Jessica Branom-Zwick | Permalink

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