By the end of the year, manufacturers of electrical and electronic products may be facing eight separate recycling laws in the United States alone. That’s twice as many laws as last year, according to the Electronic Industries Alliance—not counting WEEE, the European Union’s far-reaching Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment mandate.
Many of these laws require the participation of manufacturers, ranging from materials declaration (WEEE) to picking up part or all of collection and recycling fees. In the U.S., the requirements vary dramatically from state to state, “picking winners and losers among electronics manufacturers and retailers,” says EIA interim President and CEO Matt Flanigan. “If fifty legislatures rewrite business models state by state, consumers could see higher costs and fewer choices – all without any commensurate environmental benefit.” The EIA is one of a number of trade groups lobbying Congress to adopt a single, nationwide approach to recycling.
Businesses of all sizes are struggling with costs associated with environmental compliance. Because so many mandates exist, large companies adopt varying policies to meet these requirements. Small companies face paperwork and testing regimes that differ from customer to customer. Although some standard protocols have emerged, “too many medium and small businesses are still having products tested by every company they deal with,” according to the Electronics Components, Assemblies and Materials Association.
The EIA recently released a consensus framework that paves the way for federal legislation to establish a national recycling program for household TVs and information technology (IT) products such as computers and computer monitors. The proposal represents the first consensus agreement among IT and TV manufacturers on meeting the nation’s electronics recycling challenge.
The framework calls for a bifurcated financing approach, separating TVs from computer equipment. TV collection and recycling would be primarily conducted by an industry-sponsored third party organization and initially supported by a nominal fee paid by consumers at the point of purchase. Makers of IT equipment would be required to implement a program to collect and recycle its products in a manner that is convenient for household consumers and at no cost to them.
The framework combines both the “consumer pays” and “manufacturer pays” fee models and is getting a positive reception from some environmental groups.