Why America Is Failing So Badly At Recycling Old Electronics

This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

An old television. A first-generation iPhone. The free printer that came with a new computer.

These once novel items are among the millions of tons of technology pitched into the trash or taken to recycling centers each year. Though states have been trying to get manufacturers to help pay for electronics recycling since the early 2000s, half do not have statewide recycling programs and those that do are evaluating how to make their programs work as the size, volume and value of recycled electronics change.

Many electronic devices should not be thrown away with regular trash because they contain hazardous materials, such as mercury and lead, which can seep into soil and groundwater. And much of the metal, plastic and glass in devices can be recycled.

California became the first state to pass a law mandating “e-cycling”—electronic recycling or recycling e-waste—in 2003. Under its program, consumers pay a fee that supports e-cycling when they buy a product. The remaining 24 states and D.C. put the cost of e-cycling programs on manufacturers, often by requiring them to pay for the collection and processing of a certain amount of e-waste based on how much they sell within the state.

Five states—Connecticut, Maine, Oregon, Vermont and Washington—have “centralized” or “convenience-based” programs requiring electronics makers to help pay for local drop-off centers.

This patchwork of laws, coupled with a variety of registration and reporting requirements, makes compliance difficult for manufacturers, said Walter Alcorn, a vice president at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

States with recycling quotas can see unanticipated costs when a manufacturer meets its annual goal and stops paying for local —> Read More