In the design contest for state-mandated
recycling programs, California has managed to become the
captain of both teams.
The state's electronics recycling program,
launched in 2005 for televisions and computer monitors, is
based on an advanced recovery fee-ARF, in recycling circles-of
$6 to $10 levied on buyers of new equipment. The state moves
the money through a fund that reimburses collectors and
Although California was the first state to
mandate a program for defunct electronics, all the later states
that did so chose a different approach producer responsibility,
or extended producer responsibility (EPR) in wonk speak. The
agency that runs California's fee-based program for discarded
electronics recently adopted its own producer responsibility
strategic directive to shape future recycling initiatives. For
the guidance of the legislature, it also has prepared an
Extended Producer Responsibility Framework, into which future
product-specific or substance-specific activities could be
So the first state with ARF for computers and
televisions might also become the first state with a
multi-product EPR on its statutes.
If this happens, future mandatory recycling
programs on specific products would assign the costs-and much
of the implementation-to manufacturers. The extent to which
retailers or local government might become involved would be
decided on a case-by-case basis. What the California Integrated
Waste Management Board (CIWMB) is developing is a basic
structure for recycling. The choice of discarded goods it
should cover would be made separately.
British Columbia already uses that approach,
but it was adopted by the province's environmental agency
without the legislature writing a new law.
Scrapyards might wish to keep an eye on what
recyclables get selected for producer responsibility if
California enacts that approach.
In a preliminary assessment by CIWMB staff,
one of the five categories viewed as most eligible for
manufacturer responsibility was major appliances, a.k.a. white
goods. If a manufacturer responsibility law is passed and major
appliances become one of its elements, that might change the
current pathway of household to scrap processor to shredder. Or
even if the collection arrangements stay the same,
manufacturers might be required to provide some reimbursement
money along the way.
One reason major appliances made it onto the
preliminary list is that too many of them don't find their way
to scrapyards or to public landfill dumps that can divert them
to recycling channels. "Major appliances, along with furniture,
are the most commonly illegally dumped products and are
cumbersome and expensive items for local agencies to collect
and dispose of," a CIWMB staff document said.
At least one potential headache for the scrap
industry faded along the way. The list of 42 possible products
under such a California law was winnowed twice, first to a list
of 14 and then to a high-priority list of five.
Aside from major appliances, the finalists as
most-likely producer responsibility candidates were bulbs
containing mercury, paint, non-automotive batteries and
With computer monitors, televisions and DVD
players already covered under one existing program-and cell
phones under another-the electronics that eventually might be
recycled at manufacturer expense include audio equipment,
personal digital assistants (PDAs) and handheld games.
Even if California should pass a
multi-product manufacturer responsibility law ahead of states,
British Columbia created such a structure first by
administrative fiat. The province's product list includes
electronics, lead-acid batteries, oil, medications, paint, a
category covering solvents and pesticides, tires and beverage
containers. Manufacturers play a key role in the province's
recycling arrangements, although there is variation in the
extent to which such recycling is mandatory.
Tires used to be covered by a provincial
recycling incentive program, funded by a C$3 ARF-style
surcharge on every tire sold. Effective January 2007, however,
it was replaced by a recycling program run by the Rubber
Association of Canada, the Retail Council of Canada and the
Western Canada Tire Dealers Association.
Many electronics makers have expanded their
U.S. recycling activities over the past two years, even as most
remain opposed to legal mandates. Sony Corp. is cooperating
with Waste Management Inc.'s Recycle America unit to take back,
without charge, household discards originally made by Sony at
79 locations in 18 states, with more sites to come; Dell Inc.
is cooperating in many areas with Goodwill Industries in
handling recycling take-backs; and with an electronics
recycling law soon taking effect in Minnesota, Panasonic Corp.
of North America, Sharp Corp. and Toshiba America Electronic
Components Inc. have formed a consortium to handle
"The manufacturers are five years late
getting going but they're finally making a serious effort to do
something," said David Zimet, president of New Jersey
electronics recycler Hesstech LLC. "Let's give them a chance to
prove what they can do." He recently predicted that a
trial-and-error learning period, with manufacturers competing
among themselves to develop practical programs, should lead to
extremely efficient structures.
A potential model for manufacturer
responsibility in the United States is a Brussels-based
consortium called European Recycling Platform, which operates
through two contractors in nine European Union countries while
an affiliate is setting up operations in 20 other European
countries. Participating manufacturers include Braun,
Electrolux, Hewlett-Packard, Konica Minolta, Lucent
Technologies, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.