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E-players are still very much at odds on the right approach


When electronic product manufacturers' weigh-in on the subject of a federal electronics recycling program, their oppinions are as diverse as those they hold on state- and company-based programs.

"I believe it is critical for manufacturers to offer their customers free recycling solutions for the products they manufacture," Bryant A. Hilton, a spokesman for Dell Inc., Round Rock, Texas, said. "Dell believes that a combination of free and convenient options for consumers, a focus on consumer awareness about the importance of recycling and industry innovation will increase electronics recycling rates over time."

Most electronics makers agree that consumer convenience is of utmost importance when it comes to electronics recycling.

"What we would like to do is make recycling as easy as purchasing electronic products. It is only if we get to that point that we will be successful," said Doug Smith, director of corporate environmental affairs at Sony Electronics Inc., San Diego.

But the consensus seems to break down when it comes to whether e-cycling should be administered under one federally mandated program or a continuation of the current patchwork.

Frank Marella, senior manager of corporate environmental affairs at Sharp Electronics Corp., Mahwah, N.J., said he would prefer a federal program, but questions whether that is politically feasible. Of the various state programs already established and others pending, no two programs are identical, making it very difficult for manufacturers to meet all the requirements imposed upon them. "The only way to have a uniform program is to have a federal law that would supersede all the existing state laws, and I don't think that will happen. None of the congressmen from those states would vote for such legislation," Marella said. Some people want to get around that by making it part of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), "but one argument for not doing that is that RCRA is very complex and if it is revised people will come out of the woodwork to change other parts of the law as well."

David A. Thompson, director of corporate environmental affairs at Panasonic Corp. of North America, Secaucus, N.J., said that if a federal law doesn't preempt existing state laws, manufacturers would still be stuck with adhering to all the different state laws plus the new requirements of any federal legislation.

Actually, it isn't all that difficult to comply as things stand now, Thompson said. "California is probably the most difficult as we need to disclose the content of our products each year, which is burdensome. The next challenge will be when New York City and New Jersey come online, as they don't offer us a simple way to comply with their legislation. Manufacturers need to develop their own recycling plan and submit it to them. That will be difficult," he said.

Dell actually prefers this approach, which is more closely in line with the company's recycling policies. New York City and New Jersey aren't the first to do this, Hilton said, noting that Texas was the first to pass legislation having no-cost programs designed by manufacturers and registered with the state.

It is important to have a program, whether one broad federal plan or many state ones, that meets everyone's needs, according to Renee St. Denis, director of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Americas Product Take Back program, adding that each state has crafted legislation that it feels fits its citizens best.

Hilton maintains that Dell was the first, and remains the only, company in its industry to provide free consumer recycling worldwide. "We offer free recycling for any Dell-branded product at any time with no purchase required (including home pickup)," he said.

Hewlett-Packard's consumer recycling program—available in 52 countries, including the United States—requires a $10 to $30 fee to cover the reverse logistics cost of picking items up, but the customer is given coupons for at least that amount to purchase a new HP product. It also has a similar program for small business customers.

Sony recently launched a free electronics recycling program in cooperation with Waste Management Inc., Houston. People can drop off Sony-brand products at specified Waste Management drop-off sites—currently there are 138 in 32 states—to have them recycled for free.

"We will be in all 50 states by September and plan to eventually have a location within 20 miles of any major population center nationwide," Smith said, noting that while Waste Management is primarily known as a waste hauler it operates four ISO 14000 recycling facilities in the U.S. where about 70 percent of the products from this program will be recycled. The rest go through service providers who undergo ISO audits and pledge not to export waste.

Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba America Consumer Products LLC, Wayne, N.J., teamed up last September to form joint-venture electronic product management company Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Co. LLC (MRM), originally to comply with the requirements of Minnesota's electronics recycling law, said Thompson, who also is president of that venture. The law requires each electronics manufacturer in the state to recycle a volume equal to 60 percent of its current sales, but gives no guidance on how that should be done.

MRM, which currently has 16 electronics companies participating and 75 drop-off sites in Minnesota, plans to expand its program to other states that have passed similar legislation. The company also is looking to continue the collaborative approach and develop a recycling proposal that could be submitted to states that require manufacturers to devise their own recycling plans.

"Most manufacturers find it difficult to do on their own and, if manufacturers develop too many recycling programs consumers will be confused," Thompson said. MRM, however, has no intention, at least at this time, to extend its reach nationally.

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