E-Waste Recycling Legislation. Re-Boot!!

Ok, start over with a blank piece of paper. What are the needs for good ewaste or electronics recycling policy? We have had waste bans (putting fees on users at point of recycling), advance recycling fees (ARFs charge for recycling at point of purchase), and several varieties of "stewardship" (requiring manufacturers to pay, either as a percentage of what comes in to recycling centers, or as a percentage of what is sold out).

First define the needs:

1) Wide consumer access to recycling in a timely manner.

This is where complicated systems really fail, because they take so long to pass. States like Vermont, which have voluntary programs and do not even have a waste ban firmly declared, have higher recovery per capita during the past decade than states like Minnesota, which debated and tinkered for most of the decade. Minnesota apparently had a higher diversion per capita in 2008 (reportedly including 2007 tonnage, old CPU scrap, prepurchased 2009 tonnage). But even if research into the numbers turns out that it was the same material in pounds per capita, Vermont can't be expected to meet MN if it has been taking console TVs out of the waste stream since 2001, while Minnesotans left them in the basement.

For timely manner, KISS. But now that the Stewardship legislation has momentum behind it in some states, it may be the fastest way to kick start a state that hasn't started yet. Or "whatever will pass, do something NOW." States like VT and MA got farther simply because they got a head start. Some Stewardship advocates repeatedly state that one-time collections, like big free events and all material being collected in one year, demonstrate higher recovery rates. This is a mathematical and logical fallacy. If you stay away from the dentist for 8 years, and then have 3x more cavities filled in one year than anyone else, you are not the expert in dental policy.

2) Affordable

This will connect directly to #3, hierarchy. There is a limited amount of environmental dollars in the total economy. China demonstrated the ineffectiveness of creating one super-eco-city, spending all of its money on a super environmental place, rather than making modest improvements at all the other cities. If you spend all your money on waste disposal, you may come up short for carbon abatement or water quality. The degree to which the Free Market is fighting you, you really need to look at where the bad subsidy is and attack it, because just fighting fire with dollars may be destroying some efficiency you didn't consider. See below.

3) Hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle.

Waste bans, stewardship advocates argue, recycle but do not reduce. But the states held as models have all demonstrably hurt the hierarchy, almost without exception.


The Stewardship people mistakenly think that Manufacturers caused the obsolescence, and that takeback models will result in reduction. The manufacturers do cause waste - by insisting in every state above that reuse programs be ineligible or illegal. These states all saw reuse of computer equipment fall exponentially when their bills passed!

The manufacturers are not evil but they have a conflict of interest in the management of used equipment, especially PCs and cartridges, when white box manufacturing has had the highest rate market share growth than any other brand including Acer and Lenovo... which were themselves white box manufacturers ten years ago that grew into brands.

Crushing up useful and refurbishable equipment costs the system money. In a state like Vermont, my company has to satisfy client by client, town by town, city by city. If we miscalculate and don't service a client, we lose them. But in a stewardship state, a small number of manufacturers (some of whom actually band together - see MRM) choose which recycler or community they will buy their "share" of tonnage from. And they tend not to like companies that emphasize reuse.

4) What about reduction?

Well, first most manufacturers didn't manufacture the CRT or display devices. Those were contracted out, just as recycling is. The theory that they will design materials differently works with placebo legislation... they arent' going to change the manufacturing because of Vermont, let Europe do that.

What did cause the obsolescence that is supposed to be fixed?

- Mining subsidies keep copper, aluminum, gold, palladium, etc. cheap to make new electronics from (and make recycling more expensive in comparison).
- Microsoft. Vista killed the P3, XP killed the P2. MS controls the utilization of chips from Moore's law. And arguably, software OS would be a simpler thing to attach stewardship fees to.
- FCC. When they stopped analog TV broadcasts, THAT is what made the TVs obsolete, NOT lack of foresight by Sony, Sharp, Toshiba and Panasonic.


The right legislation will be a holistic environmental policy which will share recycling costs between consumers, government, and manufacturers. When they all split the costs, they tend to agree more on the best use of funds. And I would add mining and raw material companies, I don't know why BHP Billiton and Xstrata are not in the discussion (multi-billion dollar mining conglomerates which do not share royalties or legacy Superfund liabilities with government).

The correct legislation would create a Fund for state contracts, similar to the ARF in CA or the Clean Environment Fund for bottle deposits in MA. The fund would be contributed to by manufacturers per market share, but also by mining royalties, software operating system royalties, export container taxes, analog bandwidth auctions.

The states would bid out contracts, like CA and MA do, but those contracts wouldn't divide up transportation and collector and processor money. Put the value on the processing, and the processors will compete for transportation. If you allow processors to reuse and practice Fair Trade Recycling exports, the cost of the processing will go down, and the Fund can get raided someday to fix health care or something. That's always thrown at me as a reason AGAINST having a contract fund, but the alternative is that the "recycling" fund gets spent on stupider and stupider and expensiver and expensiver slices of the waste stream.

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