Under a new law effective in January, the state will charge consumers $6 to $8 per computer monitor or other display device as it addresses the scourge of electronic waste. A similar cell-phone program will start in 2006.
California consumers will be charged $6 to $8 per computer monitor or other display device starting Jan. 1 in a bid to step up recycling efforts, according to a bill signed into law Wednesday. Senate Bill 50, a California bill that modifies the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday night, according to a spokesman for State Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), the bills author. A spokesman for the California Waste Management Board also confirmed the bills passage. In addition, Schwarzenegger also signed Assembly Bill 2901, a bill co-authored by Assemblywomen Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica) and Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), which mandates the establishment of a no-cost collection, reuse and recycling system for proper disposal of used cell phones by July 2006.
The new CRT (cathode ray tube) recycling law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will charge consumers a fee for buying computer monitors or televisions and will pay recyclers to dispose of the displays safely: $6 for a 4-inch to 15-inch screen; $8 for a 15-inch to 35-inch screen, and $10 for screens with a diagonal length of more than 35 inches. In return, recyclers will be paid 28 cents per pound to recycle the CRTs, televisions and displays.
The two laws promise to save California IT administrators money. With the state funding, recyclers essentially will be able to pick up CRTs and cell phones from companies and consumers and dispose of them essentially for free, using the state money to offset the recycling costs. Regarding her cell-phone legislation, Assemblywoman Pavley said only about 5 percent of consumers recycle their cell phones, and most dont realize that they contain hazardous materials. The cell-phone bill will require retailers to provide containers or other methods to recycle mobile phones. “Weve made it easy on the consumer, easy on the store owner and easy on third-party recycling companies,” Pavley said in an interview, praising the governor for his stance on the environment.
“Weve also potentially created some new jobs, so its a win-win-win.” But analysts said the new CRT law will add yet another layer of certification and regulation to PC makers, which ship a single product into multinational regions, each with their own set of restrictions. Its also not clear how the surcharge will be enforced on out-of-state or international vendors shipping directly to consumers. “Our customers are going to be happy customers,” said Tom Hogye, vice president and general manager at United Datatech Distributors of Santa Clara, Calif., which owns ECS Recycling. “Theyre going to have an opportunity to retire CRT devices in California essentially for free.” Recycling a PC has become a multimillion-dollar business, prompted by the secondary market of third-world companies that are able to take an “obsolete” PC in the United States and turn it into a functional product.
Those PCs and CRTs deemed too old or too broken for resale are mined for components, then scrapped and disposed of. PCs faster than 266 MHz are resold, according to a representative at recycler Gold Circuit Inc., based in Chandler, Ariz. But he said the demand for CRTs is decreasing as businesses shift to flat panels, meaning more CRTs are being scrapped. The leaded glass that can make up of almost half of a CRTs weight, however, is considered to be hazardous waste and must be disposed of according to certain regulations.
While a small number of domestic CRT recyclers have purchased the crushers and smelters necessary to break down the glass for disposal, environmentalists point to the growing number of facilities that simply separate out the leaded glass and ship it overseas to lower-cost facilities. Such transportation is forbidden under the international Basel Convention, which the United States has never signed.
One California CRT recycler said its too soon to measure the laws impact. “Were not sure,” said Bob Erie, co-founder and chief executive at Computer Recyclers of America, based in Vista, Calif., whose Southern California facility has processed 12 million pounds of electronic waste since its plant opened in May 2003. “Were hoping it will have a positive influence on the business, but we want to wait and see. “Its the best thing to happen to the industry,” Erie said. “However, like any new law, its going to have bugs. We wont be able to tell until it takes effect and starts running.” Randy Lewis, president and CEO at SoCal Computer Recyclers, based in Harbor City, Calif., said the law will help raise awareness among consumers and businesses, whom he said arent even aware that computers and monitors can be recycled. Those who do, Lewis said, are often shocked to learn that they must pay a recycling fee, rather than receive cash back as they do when recycling aluminum cans or bottles. SoCal charges $10 per CRT and a dollar per television set.
As many as 6 million CRTs could be affected, said Chris Peck, a spokesman for the California Waste Management Board in Sacramento. Peck didnt rule out the possibility that recyclers could begin stockpiling CRTs in warehouses as they wait for the state funding to begin. The point is to get older CRTs off the street and out of landfills, he said. “Thats the sort of thing thats not supposed to be covered. … If theyre bringing them in to be recycled, then yes,” the state compensation should be applied, Peck said. Under the law, retailers will be required to call out the additional recycling charge on a customers receipt at time of purchase, similar to the Sept. 11 security surcharges assessed on the sale of airplane tickets.
If a retailer chooses to assume the cost, the retailer also must note that on the receipt. The retailer can then accept as much as 3 percent of the reimbursement fee from the state of California. The law will exempt LCDs or displays found in microwaves, washing machines and other domestic devices, as well as automobiles. But the definition of “video display devices” covered under the law includes a “CRT, LCD [liquid crystal display], gas plasma, digital light processing and other image-projection technology,” i.e. projectors. And the new law hides other problems, according to Michele Raymond, publisher of State Recycling Laws Update, based in College Park, Maryland. Already, states have had difficulty enforcing sales tax laws on PCs or other devices bought in another state or country via the Internet.
“This is the only state in the country thats gone this route,” Raymond said. “The problem with implementing it … is that buying from the Internet is going to be very, very difficult to enforce. I cant see every company every time paying that fee, especially the smaller Internet companies. I cant see how to enforce it on a small Internet dealer in China, for example. They think they can; theyre bringing in their sales tax people, [but] its going to be a challenge.”
On the other hand, California often leads the way in environmental legislation, and it could be the model for a much-needed umbrella federal law, said sources at state and federal environmental agencies. The Basel Action Network (BAN), an environmental action group, worked to close many of the loopholes that were in the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, said Jim Puckett, a BAN coordinator in Seattle. “How the heck you enforce this thing … is not clear at all,” Puckett said. “Its very profitable to export. Whos going to really fine the people who are in the business of exporting?
The state is not in the business of controlling this. At least [exportation of CRT waste] is illegal for the moment.” The new California law respects the laws of other countries and makes it illegal to violate those, Puckett said, in effect enforcing the Basel Convention, which forbids trading with countries that have not signed it. But an exemption allows trade with Mexico and Canada, and the language of the law would theoretically allow hazardous CRT waste to be shipped to other states, he said.
Only Maine has passed a similar law, which governs the recycling of both CRTs and computer chasses. Televisions and computer monitors from households will have to be recycled beginning Jan. 1, 2006; until then, individual municipalities are assuming recycling costs. Under the law, those municipalities may dispose of CRTs and otrher electronic devices in landfills, according to Carole Cifrino, an environmental specialist for Maines Environmental Protection Agency. In January 2006, however, the individual computer and CRT manufacturers will assume the recycling costs, according to the law.
This year, Raymond said, 40 recycling bills were proposed in 20 states, down from 52 the year before. Hewlett-Packard Co. has been the most vocal computer manufacturer against additional legislation, Raymond said, choosing to lobby on its own for no-fee recycling legislation. Representatives from HP declined to respond to several requests for comment. Rules at the federal level have stalled; the Environmental Protection Agency had to pull out of NEPSI (the National Electronics Products Stewardship Initiative), a national, industrywide initiative to settle environmental issues, because of a prohibition against backing movements that could lead to legislation, Raymond said. According to Pat Nathan, global sustainable business director at Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc., the most influential guidelines for recycling, besides in the United States, can be found in Europe. In August, the European Union member countries were supposed to begin enacting the restrictions set down by the European Parliaments directives on “Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment,” also known as WEEE. WEEE sets forward certain per-person collection goals to recycle electronic equipment.
Greece is now WEEE-compliant, Nathan said, adding that Germany is nearly there. The problem, Nathan said, is one of education. Dell surveys have shown that European IT administrators are largely unaware of the WEEE mandates. “One out of three IT professionals … was aware that these products could be recycled,” she said. “Ninety-two percent were unaware that WEEE would be in effect next summer.”
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