Recycler Testimony on Vermont S.77 ewaste bill

Good Point Recycling
227 Pond Lane,
Middlebury, Vermont, 05753

Testimony on Senate Bill 77 – Electronics Recycling

House Natural Resources Committee

Presented by Robin Ingenthron

CEO, Good Point Recycling

April 22, 2009

Thank you Representative, and other Members of this committee, for considering the issue of Electronics Recycling. Special thanks to Betty Nuovo, who informed me of the testimony and invited me here today. Vermont was not the first state to take up legislation of electronics scrap, and will not be the last. Our challenge is to take this on, do it right, and take the time necessary to edit and redraft the legislation.

I have looked at surplus electronics from many perspectives. With a degree in International Relations, I studied at the United Nations in Geneva, and understand the difficulty and complexity of trade and "non-tariff barriers" to new manufacturing. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, I know both the elation of bridging the digital divide, and the heartbreak of a trade in toxic junk. As recycling director of Massachusetts DEP, I helped pass the nation's first disposal ban on CRTs - cathode ray tubes. And in this decade, I put my money where my mouth is, and invested in Good Point Recycling of Middlebury, an important employer, green jobs creator, and environmentally sound end-market for used electronics.

Good Point Recycling is now one of the premier electronics recycling companies in the USA. We have been a consultant for Dell, a contractor for Sony, a consultant for EPA, but almost all of our income is from municipalities, and the scrap we resell. We managed over two thousand tons of electronics in 2008. We collect TVs, computers, cell phones, Ipods, anything with a cord. We started with "events" in 2001, but today 83% of Vermonters can recycle a TV at least five days per week in their county, for less than the cost of crossing the Washington Bridge in New York. When I started, TVs cost 60 cents per pound to recycle, as they still do in California. Now we collect them for 25% of that cost, which is less than the price of a haircut. But our partners, the counties of Vermont, are under financial pressure.

One option you have is to take the legislation passed a year ago in Minnesota, and implement it immediately in Vermont. Minnesota is the "twitter" of ewaste legislation now. Two years ago it was Maine, and two years before that, California. California and Maine are now considered passe, yesterday's legislation, mostly because they have to tax consumers to pay the expense of breaking good computers that could have been resold.

I'm not here to complain, there are wonderful intentions here. But my advice is to eat this elephant a bite at a time. S.77 tries to take on everything at once, from TVs to iphones. If it were passed 10 years ago, we might still have never heard of Acer or Lenovo, as it's primary danger is regulating a lighting fast industry which evolves faster than regulators in Waterbury can say "retail restriction".

That does not mean that there are not several very good elements in the bill that will improve Vermont's infrastructure. Some will help my company and some will invite competition from out of state, which is welcome and good. But for evidence that there is good and bad in the bill, I will read you 4 highlights.

1) Good. A waste ban on disposal. Massachusetts banned CRTs in 1999. Tires, white goods, auto batteries, and air conditioners have been banned much longer than that, and achieved 85% recovery - all of them - two decades ago. Ban ewaste and our industry will gobble it up.

2) Bad. "Anti competitive conduct". Manufacturers are NOT friendly to reuse, resale, and market cannabalization. I invest in those companies and am not badmouthing them, and Planned Obsolescence may be a forgotten term to some people in this room. But there is no reason for a waste disposal bill to allow collusion banned by the SEC.

3) Good. TV recycling. TVs are 65% of our tonnage, and 95% of our costs. They are unique in that the CRT TV is a bit of a dinosaur with declining reuse potential. The marketplace, while growing, is not so diverse that a Lenovo or Acer TV manucturer will be taken away from Vermont consumers. Waste CRTs are the most expensive and tempting trash to export. If the cost of CRT TVs is borne by manufacturers, my company will be able to recycle for free.

4) Bad. Everything that distracts from #1 and #3 above. Market shares calculations, cell phones, advanced math, registration of manufacturers of MP3 players, sorting of keyboards, measuring steel yard scrap as a percentage of data provided by a manufacturer... As a former regulator, I predict that the state will spend 80% of its time administering 20% of the widgets covered in the legislation. The more the bill tries to do, the more potential for unforeseen consequences. And it is difficult to explain, but the OEMs themselves have requirements of the recyclers they choose. Destruction of refillable ink cartridges, sorting of keyboards with company name on them - they require things, and because they bring the money Vermont's legislature tells them to bring, Good Point must follow their instructions or lose the business.

What "distractions" have impacted Minnesota? Bankruptcy, for one. Manufacturers could take credit for so many types of electronics surplus, from off lease laptops to mainframe computers to CPUs sent to scrap metal yards, that they easily met their "mandated" tonnage without even collecting the TVs.

I honestly believe you could get this bill onto one or two pages. You might be able to cover the costs with an advanced disposal fee, paid out to the Districts which may be taking on more responsibility. If not, I strongly suggest that you implement the regulations in stages, incrementally increasing coverage each year.

You can do a waste ban immediately, there is plenty of industry capacity to take everything, and my company has to bid on material in Boston and New York to keep our people employed.

You can begin coverage of TVs only next year. You might find that you get free recycling just by addressing CRT TVs.

You can begin monitors and all display devices the next year... buy you may find that with the cost of TVs taken care of, that there's no need.

You can add printers later. My company can collect CPUs - the metal desktops - for free right now, we only charge for mixed e-scrap to spread out the cost of recycling broken CRTs.

In closing, Senate Bill S.77 has a sporty engine, but too much luggage. Details and formulas hurt the bill, and it will bring unforeseen consequences, miles of red tape, and high costs to consumers if it is passed as is. But I do think you should focus on the TVs, which are being replaced by flat panels and digital broadcast ready units. There is a windfall of electronics scrap to be dealt with. I just urge you to K.I.S.S., and deal with the problem without trying to regulate every afterthought.

1 comment:

Dewey said...

Robin -

I've just started reading this blog, but you've been doing some really great work. Nova Scotia (where I go to school) just instituted a waste ban and a tax on all new electronics to cover their disposal costs. I'm busy these days organizing a huge flea market that takes a hockey-rink full of stuff and recycles it in some way or another...pretty cool stuff. Keep it up!