Ohio Environmental Council, November 26, 2012
There are two main approaches that states have taken: consumers pay or the manufacturers pay. The most common involves the individual manufacturers paying for the cost of recycling their percentage of product in the market place. Costs to the manufacturer include the actual recycling, as well as, transportation and collection.
Under this system, most states allow the cost to be completely free to the consumers, although some charge consumers a nominal fee when they drop off their electronics. States using this system may charge a one-time registration fee and/or an additional annual fee to the manufacturers.
Recycling operations will then pass a bill onto the manufacturers for the number of their units that were actually recycled. States with this system include: Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Maine, and Washington. Advantages to this type of system include: manufacturers having a greater responsibility for their product, encouraging a longer life span for the products, and making the products easier to recycle.
California is the main state in which costs are allocated to the consumer. This is done through an additional charge to electronic products at the time of purchase. Consumers do not have to pay a fee at the time of collection. The downside to this system could be that it chills the encouragement of manufacturers producing more environmentally friendly products.
Jobs rates might be lowered as consumers buy their products elsewhere at a lower cost. The government is then responsible for the management of the recycling system. There has been a problem with recycling companies in California reporting fraudulent bills to the government.
Since consumers are paying an extra fee at the time of purchase, the recyclers present their bills to the government for payment rather than the manufacturers. Recyclers have been over reporting the number of units processed in order to make a larger profit off the government. The government may also be covering the cost of electronics that were bought outside the state but are still being recycled within the state (“orphan devices”).
The electronics to be included in the program are commonly referred to as “Covered Electronic Devices” (CEDs). Most state regulations include televisions, desktop and portable computers, and monitors at the very lease.
A few states limit their CEDs to products with Cathode Ray Tube (CRTs). Massachusetts has one of the most restrictive regulations only including CRTs (computer monitors and TV screens). The majority of states allow electronics with a screen size of 4 inches diagonally to be included. Few states allow accessories like keyboards and mice to be recycled under the program but more will be adding them into the program in the future (Oregon). New York and Illinois have two of the most inclusive list of CEDs.
A common thread among state bans on e-waste is the requirement that retailers advertise recycling options at the time of purchase. Also, retailers are not allowed to sell electronics from manufacturers not approved by the state.
Manufacturers may not be approved for sale in the state when they do not pay their registration fee or meet other requirements. States, such as those with recycling goals, may require retailers to keep track of the number of products sold for each manufacturer.
Some states, in addition to making the manufacturers pay the cost of recycling, mandate that manufacturers meet certain recycling goals for the year. This not only places the cost on manufacturers, but the burden of setting up collection sites for consumers.
States with this program include Illinois, Minnesota, and New York. States set these goals by having retailers or the manufacturers report how many of each manufacturers’ products were sold in the state the previous year.
Illinois, for example, required manufacturers in the first year of the program to recycle 40% of the weight of items sold in the state during a previous year. There were criticisms of Illinois for setting lower goals than other states and yet manufacturers were still not meeting their goals.
If manufacturers do not meet the goals set, fines are assessed. Illinois set different fines depending on the percentage of the goal met.
Several states give credits to manufacturers that exceed their yearly recycling goals. These credits may then be reserved for the future or sold to other manufacturers.
Electronic device consumers include individuals buying for the household, businesses (large or small), schools and the government, among others. Regulations must establish who may take advantage of the, often free, collection facilities or events.
At a minimum, all the states with e-waste laws cover household e-waste. Others may allow small business to use the collections sites but limit the number of employees the business may have and still use the program (New Jersey, Maine).
Washington provides e-waste recycling for free to residents, businesses, schools and government offices. If certain entities are not included in the e-waste recycling program, they are regulated under hazardous and solid waste laws in most instances.
If the entire burden is to be placed on the manufacturers, including plans for recycling, states have set different limits on how manufacturers may handle their programs. North Carolina sets out three different recycling plans the manufacturers have to choose from but they must follow one of the plans.
Several states give manufacturers the option to either implement their own recycling plans that must meet state standards or pay to participate in another plan (either set-up by the state or a separate entity). New York allows the manufacturers to group together to form collective recycling programs.
Orphan devices are electronic devices not accounted for by a manufacturer selling within the state at the time. This may include devices from manufacturers that are no longer in business or not allowed to be sold in the state.
The common practice when costs are to be allocated to manufacturers is to spread the cost of recycling to the manufacturers based on their overall market share (Connecticut).
Not all of the states with e-waste laws started their programs with a complete ban of the products in the municipal waste stream. Illinois, for example, set the ban to start several years after enactment.
Oregon places a burden on the waste disposal facilities from knowingly accepting the devices.