The lack of a nationwide e-waste program in the United States will cost taxpayers millions of dollars as states duplicate efforts, according to a study released this week.
Four states that have begun e-waste programs to recycle electronic equipment will generate US$25 million a year in “dead weight” costs such as redundant program administration, enforcing manufacturer and retailer compliance and excluding out-of-state waste from the state’s program, said the study by the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse. Electronics manufacturers and retailers would pay $11.4 million of those costs, while state governments would pay $4.4 million.
Three states—California, Maryland and Maine—have already begun recycling computer hardware and other electronics equipment, and a fourth, Washington, is scheduled to implement an e-waste program by January 2009. If 20 states adopt e-waste programs, the redundant cost to taxpayers would be $125 million a year, the study said.
The study projected $224 million in redundant spending on state programs during the next eight years, assuming one new state passes an e-waste program each year. The compliance cost to electronics manufacturers would be $70.2 million, and $41 million to state governments, the study said.
The United States needs a “harmonized national system,” not a patchwork of state laws, said Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER), a nonprofit organization that advocates for e-recycling programs. Some environmental groups and U.S. lawmakers have pushed for large-scale e-waste programs, but the U.S. Congress has not passed legislation creating a national program.
The issue hasn’t seemed to catch the attention of many in Congress yet, Linnell said. “Certainly, in the absence of a national program, the states have had to do something to respond to concerns,” he added. “The national program is going to take some time, and it might have to get worse before it gets better.”
More than 2.2 million tons of obsolete computers, televisions and other electronic equipment are discarded in U.S. landfills each year, according to 2005 figures from U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and sponsor of a bill to establish a national program.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which along with NCER funded the study, called on Congress to create a national recycling program. The lack of a federal program also means that states with e-waste programs have to spend money to keep users from bringing electronics from out of state for recycling, said Parker Brugge, CEA’s senior director and environmental counsel.
“It would be more efficient if the money was spent on actual recycling programs,” Brugge said.
CEA does believe states and local governments should have a role in e-waste programs, but the problem “deserves a national system for financing,” Brugge added.
“A Study of the State-by-State E-Waste Patchwork,” released Wednesday, is available here.
-Grant Gross, IDG News Service (Washington Bureau)
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