I was disturbed by Thomas Kostigen’s column. He’s right that electronic waste is a real problem, but he’s supporting the wrong solution.

California’s e-waste program deserves a closer look. It actually works. More than 65 million pounds of e-waste was recycled last year, according to California’s Integrated Waste Management Board.

Projections show more than 140 million pounds will be properly recycled this year. I’m no fan of big government, but there are certainly things government does well. Recycling is one of them. Fees for the proper recycling of e-waste are no different those for bottles and cans.

Kostigen is apparently a champion of Washington’s model, where producers are forced to “take back” their products and handle recycling. Washington’s model isn’t even slated to start until 2009.

Europe has successfully banned electronic products [from landfills] — which is a good start — but their system does not provide for the proper recycling of the e-waste. It installed a ban but didn’t take the next step.

Other states requiring manufacturers to “take back” their e-waste have no reliable data showing these products are actually being diverted from the waste stream, either. There’s no reliable data showing that consumers actually box up their old product and send it back to the manufacturer. That means they’re ending up in our landfills — or worse — shipped to 3rd world countries for dumping.

It’s also misguided to assume “take back” laws will motivate manufacturers to use ecologically friendly materials. What are landfill operators and recyclers supposed to do, sort through e-waste looking for certain brands? Bad actors from China will continue manufacturing cheap electronic products that fail to comply with regulations.

Also, once Kostigen’s laptop is ready to be replaced (in about 18 months), he’ll have to find a box, package it and pay $25 to have it shipped to wherever the manufacturers deem appropriate. Compared to a modest $8 fee where all he needs to do is take it to one of more than 500 collection points in California — it’s a no brainer. He points out the good PR maneuvers of Hewlett Packard, but they’ve fought harder than anyone to keep printers off of California’s list of products banned from the landfills. They’re charging consumers to take back their old products, and it’s far more expensive than California’s modest Advanced Recycling Fee (ARF).

Kostigen’s also wrong that California consumers pay fees for any electronic product other than televisions, computer monitors and laptops. Those are the only three products where consumers pay a modest $6-$10 fee to help fund the state’s very effective e-recycling program. What’s more, e-waste recycling plants gladly accept printers, computers, stereos, DVD players (basically, anything with a cord), even though they are not paid for recycling them. They don’t get reimbursed by the state for taking these toxics out of our landfills.

Ask the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, and they’ll tell you that virtually all major brands are compliant with Europe’s RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substance) standards. But just because manufacturers start making cleaner products, does not mean they should wind up in landfills. Proper recycling is key. California’s system works. Consumers pay a modest fee. The government weeds out bad actors and enforces strict compliance. And companies like mine recycle e-waste into commodities — glass, plastic and metals. We then put them back into the manufacturing stream for future use.

It’s a sustainable solution that deserves a closer look.

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