Standards sought for e-recycling

This afternoon, the government released an electronic waste report with recommendations for launching and financing a nationwide system to recycle used electronics.

The U.S. Technology Administration wrote the document, titled “Recycling Technology Products: An Overview of E-Waste Policy Issues,” after a 2004 roundtable discussion with manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, environmental organizations and other stakeholders.

Because there is no single system, states are experimenting with several models such as an advanced recovery fee that the customer pays and producer responsibility, in which manufacturers are responsible for paying for e-recycling. Roundtable participants and respondents to a public Federal Register request agreed that a uniform national system is preferable to a mishmash of differing state systems.

The new report is designed to help policy-makers create a single e-recycling system. The report does not highlight a specific model, but instead summarizes the participants’ views and analyzes the range of options.

One solution targets federal information technology buyers. “Use the federal government's leverage as one of the country's largest IT buyers to drive design improvements, manufacturer participation in recycling solutions and end-of-life services,” the report states

There are also a number of ways to formalize a uniform system. Some observers believe a policy could be formulated through stakeholder consensus or state legislation. Others favor national legislation.

Other stakeholder recommendations for an e-recycling system include:

  • Make product stewardship a goal. Those involved in products’ life cycles should share responsibility for reducing their environmental impacts.
  • Define covered products clearly to eliminate guesswork and lengthy negotiations between producers and retailers.
  • Provide flexibility for local and regional solutions in collection methods, such as using incentive payments, not mandates or a centrally prescribed collection process.
  • Treat residential and commercial electronics waste the same.
  • Set environmentally sound management guidelines for recycling — such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for the Plug-In to eCycling program — and provide a system of auditing to ensure that dismantlers and recyclers are evaluated against these guidelines.
  • Agree on one financing mechanism to apply nationwide.
  • Establish procedures to oversee and enforce the system to ensure fairness and uniform participation.
  • Build competition and market forces into the system from the beginning to keep costs low.
  • Standardize product labeling, product literature, packaging information and reporting requirements.
  • Include industry in the development of any design standards or material bans, if they are part of any legislation.
  • Ensure a level playing field for all manufacturers, including those who sell via the Internet and foreign manufacturers.
  • Develop incentives in the private sector for programs that reward environmentally friendly design, such as the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, Energy Star, Design for Environment Program and the Green Suppliers Network.

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