A WATERED-DOWN VERSION of a Washington State electronics recycling bill that is expected to be signed into law this spring is putting the burden on manufacturers to manage their e-waste.

In February, the state House passed a bill declaring that “every manufacturer must develop, submit to the department, implement and finance the implementation of a plan for the collection and recycling or reuse of 20 percent by weight of the covered electronic products [computer monitors, computer CPUs and TVs] sold by the manufacturer in Washington.” The plan was scheduled to be implemented by June 30, 2006. By June 30, 2007, every manufacturer also would be required to increase the recycling and reuse of covered electronic products by 10 percent by weight every year for five years until it reaches 70 percent in 2011. A $5 fee on the retail sale of new, covered electronics would be charged for five years starting in 2005, and an electronic product management and recycling committee also would have been created by the bill.

But the Senate amended the bill, establishing a subcommittee to research and develop recommendations for implementing and financing an electronic product collection, recycling and reuse program by December 15, 2004, and December 15, 2005. That bill passed on March 10.

Many of the changes were due to opposition from the electronics industry, which objected to manufacturers paying extra fees for disposal costs on the front end, says Rep. Hans Dunshee. But electronics recycling is crucial, he says. “If you throw this stuff into a regular landfill, it puts the chemicals into the environment. You don't want your grandchildren someday eating food that has residue from your old computer on it.”

Electronics manufacturers agree recycling is a concern, but the industry opposed the House bill because it did not allow the industry to study other options, says Jason Linnell, senior manager of environmental affairs for the Electronics Industry Alliance, Arlington, Va. Some in the industry favor a point-of-sale fee paid by the consumer, while others want to make manufacturers responsible for collection systems and paying to recycle their products, he explains.

Washington is one of approximately 30 states with some form of an electronics recycling bill, says Peter Muscanelli, president of the International Association of Electronics Recyclers (IAER), Albany, N.Y. “Because we have not had … federal legislative action … states are initiating actions internally to mandate, regulate or resolve this issue,” he says, adding that it has been difficult to come up with a plan that meets the needs of all industries involved. “To pass state laws, let's see which ones are going to work and try to modify them and roll them out nationally,” he adds.