Finding Loopholes In California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act

Despite one of the most comprehensive and well-funded state electronic waste recycling initiatives, Californians are still exporting approximately 160 million to 210 million pounds of this hazardous waste to developing countries each year.

That’s enough e-waste to fill more than 4,500 shipping containers which, placed end to end, would form a convoy about 35 miles long, according to the Sacramento Bee.

In 2003, the state of California enacted landmark legislation to establish a funding system for the collection and recycling of certain electronic wastes.

Key elements of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act (EWRA) include:

  • Reduction in hazardous substances used in certain electronic products sold in California.
  • Collection of an electronic waste recycling fee at the point of sale of certain products.
  • Distribution of recovery and recycling payments to qualified entities covering the cost of electronic waste collection and recycling.
  • Directive to recommend environmentally preferred purchasing criteria for state agency purchases of certain electronic equipment.

The legislation has been successful in diverting large amounts of e-waste from landfills and jump-started a multimillion-dollar, publicly-funded state industry to recycle televisions, computer monitors and other video display devices.

However, it’s been discovered that a myriad of other electronic devices, like alarm clocks, VHS players and video gaming systems, are left unaccounted for under the EWRA, earning recycling facilities no profit for processing them.

This loophole leaves so-called electronics “recyclers” in California left holding the bag unless they agree to sell them for 5-10 cents a pound to other firms that will export them out of the country.

“This is where I think the federal government really needs to step up,” Jeff Hunts, manager of the TV and monitor recycling program at CalRecycle, told SacBee. “If the federal government today said, ‘Electronic scrap shall not be exported without being treated to a certain level,’ that would grow, frankly, a domestic industry.”

Until the federal government accepts that responsibility, it’s up to the recyclers themselves to make the extra effort to “treat” the electronics properly by reducing them to their simplest elements- the metals, plastics and precious minerals that can be safely exported or sold as raw materials for creating new products.

So far, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control claims that it’s not responsible for solving this e-waste conundrum.

But Sue Laney, an assistant deputy director at the DTSC did admit in a statement to SacBee that “if (California’s Electronic Waste Recycling Act) is amended to make it more attractive for businesses to recycle here, rather than export components abroad, DTSC will of course fulfill its mandate” to enforce the law.

Image Credit: Flickr - takomabibelot

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Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman4 years ago

thanx for article

ilse diels
.4 years ago

.. wonder how many people only get a new phone cause its broken .. unfortunatly you are doomed with cool electronics, a nokia aint cool .. now you all need an iphone ..

Sundeep Shah
Sundeep Shah4 years ago

thanks for the article

kenneth m.
kenneth m.4 years ago

I know I am helping those countrys by giving them something to do. They like recycling our stuff.

Kelly Stephens
Kelly Stephens4 years ago

e-waste is growing every day. we can all do our part though, i put a bin at my school for any e-waste and make sure it's recycled properly

Roxana J.
Roxana J.4 years ago

how can we be sure about " recycling " when it gets to a third world country....a little scary to imagine that waste may end in a landfil somewhere in the world , resulting on more polution.

Grace Adams
Grace Adams4 years ago

No my old electronics are sitting around gathering dust at home. Maybe the California State Legislature can try again. Partially refundable deposits collected at the purchase of new goods, with the consumer getting part for bringing back their old electronics and the rest going to the store to cover its costs of getting things actually recycled might help.

Reka B.
Reka b.4 years ago

thank you

kenneth m.
kenneth m.4 years ago

I dont mind sending it to brand new developing countrys. It creats jobs. They need jobs.

Kathleen B.
Kathleen B.4 years ago

I take mind to the recycle area at the landfill, but I don't have a clue as to what happens after that.