Almost overnight, producer responsibility has become a mandate in more than one-third of the United States for manufacturers that sell electronics products. Many experts believe such responsibility will soon be nationwide.
Last month Illinois became the eighth state to pass such a law this year and the 13th in the past 18 months.
``It is clear that we are going to producer responsibility,'' said Matt Gobble, environmental manager at Toshiba America Consumer Products in Wayne N.J. ``We are all going to the same place legislatively. State-by-state, we are going to have national producer responsibility for electronics,'' he said at the National Recycling Coalition conference in Pittsburgh.
The Illinois law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, prohibits landfill disposal of televisions, printers, computer monitors, laptops, printers, fax machines, MP3 players and other electronics items, most of which have housings made from plastics. The bill also mandates producer responsibility and recycling goals, and incentives, for manufacturers.
The amount of e-waste is huge. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 2.6 million tons of electronics waste are created each year, with just over 12 percent of it recycled.
According to environmental group Electronics Takeback Coalition, 400 million televisions, computers, cell phones and other electronics are scrapped each year in the U.S., with 133,000 personal computers discarded daily.
That is compounded by ever increasing electronics sales. The U.S. purchased 67 million, or one-fourth, of the 268 million computers sold worldwide in 2007. Digital TV sales in the country are projected to reach 32 million in 2008, and worldwide cell phone sales are projected to exceed 1 billion units in 2009, according to the coalition.
``It is the fastest-growing waste stream in the industrialized world,'' said Joe Aho, senior manager of eCycling for Waste Management Recycle America LLC, a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc. of Houston. ``If it is not addressed, it can become a problem of crisis proportions because of the rapid rate of obsolescence'' of electronics products, Aho said.
``We need to keep electronics waste out of landfills.''
With electronic take-back laws or bans now approved in 17 states and New York City, the industry has begun to gear up to meet its mandated responsibility.
In partnership with WM Recycle America, both Sony Electronics Inc. and LG Electronics USA Inc. have their own corporate programs that take back their brands for free, and others for a slight fee. Samsung Electronics America Inc. has a similar program. Both the Samsung and LG programs were started in the last two months. Sony's program is a year old.
In addition, Toshiba, Panasonic Corp. of North America and Sharp Electronics Corp. earlier this year formed Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Co. LLC to manage the collection and recycling of elec- tronic products in the U.S.
The firms set up the joint venture in response to the Minnesota law that took effect July 1, 2007, and recycled 10 million pounds of electronics in that state in its first year through 75 collection sites.
``We want to provide cost-effective recycling services for manufacturers and consumers,'' Gobble said of the joint venture, known as MRM. ``It is our job as manufacturers to take these producer responsibilities and meet sustainability objectives through recycling management.''
MRM has an executive director in Minnesota and will add more as state-passed laws go into effect.
``We expect to have state level directors as we expand,'' Gobble said. ``We just added one in Oregon.'' A bill passed by the Oregon Legislature goes into effect Jan. 1.
Gobble said MRM is working to establish programs in other jurisdictions where laws will soon go into effect New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Illinois, to name a few.
There are also other take-back efforts emerging at retail, said Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling in Davisville, W.Va. ``Sometimes retailers such as Best Buy will take back TVs,'' he said.
With the proliferation of state laws, each with different nuances, manufacturers would prefer a uniform federal law.
``The biggest issue is whether there will be pre-emption at the federal level,'' Gobble said. ``But the federal government doesn't like to do that. Toshiba is neutral on that, but there is a growing consensus on an industry level to try and come up with some federal language.''
However, Aho thinks that is unlikely: ``For the federal government to do something at this point would be challenging.''