The number of states with electronic waste legislation is growing every year. Of those states having electronic waste legislation, the vast majority have followed an extended producer responsibility approach—placing responsibility on manufacturers of covered products to deal with recycling of those products. While there are some common elements to producer responsibility laws, it is essential that producers be familiar with the specific requirements of the statutes in those states where it sells products.

Scope of E-waste Problem

Electronic waste, or e-waste is a relatively new concept, which we discussed in a previous post. E-waste describes discarded, surplus, obsolete, or broken electrical or electronic devices and now makes up approximately five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide, and growing. In fact, e-waste is the fastest growing component of the municipal solid waste stream because people are upgrading their mobile phones, computers, televisions, audio equipment and printers more frequently than ever before. In the United States alone, approximately 130,000 computers are thrown away every day and over 100 million cell phones are thrown away each year.

States with E-waste Laws

To date, twenty states and New York City have passed legislation mandating statewide electronic waste recycling programs. Several other states are considering such legislation in the coming year. The Electronic TakeBack Coalition publishes a list of all states with e-waste legislation with links to the statutes.

In addition to the twenty states that currently have e-waste legislation enacted, a number of states are currently considering adopting or amending their e-waste laws including Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Extended Producer Responsibility Approach

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a policy that requires manufacturers to accept responsibility for all stages in a product’s lifecycle, including “end-of-life” management when people discard the product. EPR policies generally require manufacturers to fund the collection, recycling, or safe disposal of discarded products.

Currently there are 31 states with at least one producer responsibility law in place. In 2006 there were only 16. And producer responsibility legislation is gaining ground in areas other than electronics, including pharmaceuticals, packaging, plastics, and even carpeting. As more states adopt and amend e-waste legislation, it is likely that this producer responsibility approach will become even more widespread.

Except for California, all state e-waste laws have taken a an extended producer responsibility approach, mandating that manufacturers of electronic products pay for recycling of those products. California’s law, on the other hand, has taken a Consumer Fee approach, requiring consumers to pay a fee at the time of purchase of electrical or electronic devices, which is then used to reimburse recyclers and collectors.

In general, legislation following the producer responsibility approach has used three primary components: (1) manufacturer registration requirements and fees, (2) producer established recycling programs, and (3) market share or return share fee systems to pay for collection and recycling costs.

State regulatory schemes vary greatly, however, with respect to what products are covered, what producers are covered, and what obligations covered producers must meet. Producers should become familiar with the regulations in all states in which they operate and keep abreast of regulatory changes.