Electronics Recycling

—Mike Thompson

The growing awareness at all levels of society to the problems associated with the disposal and recycling of electronic products, especially computers, monitors and televisions, is being translated into legislation at the state and municipal levels.

Many are calling upon Congress to step in and bring forward legislation to set basic standards for the United States, with an emphasis on persuading citizens, companies and institutions to do their part in ensuring that e-waste is dealt with in an environmentally-friendly way.

American Recycler recently interviewed House of Representative Member Mike Thompson (D-CA), co-chairman of the Congressional E-Waste Working Group, for the latest developments on the drafting of federal legislation.

Will the federal government establish a nationwide ban on the landfilling of electronic goods and if so, when could this be implemented?

Thompson: It is extremely important that Congress address the growing amount of e-waste, which poses a serious risk to the environment and public safety. The stakeholders involved understand it will be easier to comply with a federal e-waste program, rather than a patchwork of state laws. The Congressional E-Waste Working Group's (CEWG) intention is to introduce legislation that would create a national program, and we hope to introduce the bill as soon as possible.

Can the federal government restrict e-waste exports to nations that already have an established e-cycling infrastructure and standards that guarantee that such products are deconstructed and recycled in a way that is environmentally sound?

Thompson: We are currently developing legislative language that would address the export of e-waste, so it is too soon to discuss details. But the public health and environmental impacts of e-waste are the primary reason we are working to address this problem.

What is the state of the negotiations regarding the proposed federal legislation on e-cycling and when do you expect legislation will be introduced into the House of Representatives and the Senate?

Thompson: A few months ago, the staff of the CEWG released a framework for the legislation and solicited feedback from stakeholders. We are currently reviewing their comments and beginning to craft the bill. We aim to get the bill finalized as quickly as possible; however, it's critical that this bill is carefully crafted.

Is the issue of e-cycling legislation a bipartisan issue or will it require that one party has effective control of the Congress and the presidency?

Thompson: The CEWG is a bipartisan effort including members from both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Capitol. The issue of e-waste is not a political one, and I do not anticipate any trouble finding support from either party.

What type of electronics would you like to include in national legislation?

Thompson: Any cathode ray tube, flat panel screen, or similar video display device with a screen size greater than four inches measured diagonally, and any central processing unit, which would cover desktop and laptop computers.

Individual states are passing producer responsibility laws in terms of dealing with e-waste. Should there be a level-playing field across the nation and how would federal legislation mesh with existing state legislation?

Thompson: I am pleased that 13 states and New York City have adopted e-waste laws and 20 more states have proposed bills. That being said, it is also important to consider the issues that arise from a patchwork of fifty different state regulations. The CEWG’s concept paper addresses this problem by setting high standards for federal certification of state programs; at the very least, states will have minimum benchmarks to meet.