When Utah’s governor signed Senate Bill 184 on March 22, the United States reached another milestone in the development of our national patchwork of state electronics recycling laws. Half of the states, covering two-thirds of the U.S. population, now boast some type of e-waste law. Utah also continues the trend of no two states passing an exactly identical bill. The Utah e-waste law, like all but the law in California, uses a producer (manufacturer) responsibility approach. Another four states — New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Vermont — passed e-waste recycling laws in 2010. By January 2012, all 25 state e-waste laws will be implemented, barring any legislative delays.
Despite the number of laws and their differences, there does not appear to be a federal e-waste law on the horizon. However, there is increased federal attention to the issue, primarily on the part of the Obama Administration rather than in Congress. In the absence of a federal program, state agencies and impacted stakeholders are beginning to work together to harmonize the overlapping aspects of their programs to avoid duplication of activities. Coordination and attempts at crafting new laws based on lessons learned from older laws are just two of the key current e-waste recycling trends. Other trends include the sole use of market share in allocating collection goals to manufacturers, the requirement of a minimum number of devices collected by county, and the expansion of the scope of electronic products covered.
New State Laws and Trends
State e-waste recycling laws based on a producer responsibility model vary in that costs to manufacturers are set based on the number of units or the total weight of products they sell (called the market-share approach), the amount of their brands in the waste stream (return-share approach), or some combination of the two measurements. Early producer responsibility laws, such as those in Maine and Washington state, rely on return-share-based allocations to assign financial obligations. However, very few laws passed since 2008 have incorporated return-share aspects, and the new laws in New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont rely solely on market-share allocations.
Another trend is the continued divide between states that establish minimum collection targets and those that do not. Of the new laws, Utah’s and the section of South Carolina’s that sets requirements for computer and other information technology (IT) manufacturers do not set minimum collection volume goals for manufacturers. The other new states — New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont — set defined collection goals. In Pennsylvania’s case, the collection goal is based on the total weight of new sales in the state. In order to mandate a minimum level of convenience, the New York and Vermont laws add a geographic target for collection numbers by setting a figure in each county that must be met in addition to the overall collection target.