With the exception of California, the states enacting mandatory recycling of computer monitors and televisions have chosen to make manufacturers pay the bills. But the details vary substantially—Washington state is not Oregon is not Maine. Several electronics manufacturers have launched nationwide recycling programs for their own branded goods. The result has been a patchwork.
An interesting alliance surfaced briefly during the Democratic National Convention in late August. A Denver press conference saluted South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. for starting a U.S. recycling program under which the receiving and processing will be handled mostly by the Recycle America unit of Houston-based Waste Management Inc.
Cooperating in the Denver briefing were retailer Best Buy Co. Inc., the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and the Product Stewardship Institute. The participants described themselves as having agreed on a framework for federal e-scrap legislation and "establishment of a sustainable recycling infrastructure at the federal, state and local level."
The Electronics TakeBack Coalition has begun playing a watchdog role, publicizing which manufacturers it rates as effective recyclers and which ones flunk. South Korean-owned Samsung Electronics America Inc. won a transfer to the list of good guys in September after having been picketed earlier in the year. "Samsung is the third major TV manufacturer, after Sony Electronics and LG Electronics, to offer free, nationwide recycling for its products," the Electronics TakeBack Coalition said in its press release.
Are the manufacturers and advocacy groups that cooperated in Denver moving toward a lobbying alliance? Not yet, according to Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, which is based in San Francisco. "The group that met in Denver definitely does not constitute an organization. I would call it a group of interested parties in the e-waste issue," she said.
"Discussions about federal legislation (on the topic) have been happening for the last eight years within various groups, associations, formal and informal networks," Kyle added.
From 2001 to 2005, the dominant forum for diverse stakeholders to interact was the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (Nepsi). Probably the most divisive issue was who would pay for recycling TVs and monitors from manufacturers no longer active.
The Denver grouplet will continue to chat, "but it's unclear if it will lead anywhere or even become an ongoing discussion," Kyle said.
Another alliance that has coalesced around a recycling issue recently is the Coalition Against Copper Theft. It advocates a federal statute setting a nationwide standard for documenting copper scrap transactions. Cash payments of more than $500 for copper at scrapyards would be prohibited.
Based on skirmishes in state legislatures, one would expect such a lobby to be backed by electric utilities, farmers, construction firms and landlords. And, yes, they are indeed involved. But the executive director is a lobbyist for Home Depot Inc., retailer of tools, accessories and supplies for household improvements. Also aboard the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the Food Marketing Institute.
Retailers haven't been complaining in public about disappearing copper; the apparent rationale is to avoid giving useful ideas to potential shoplifters. One gambit, according to Home Channel News, is to buy a bulky but cheap product, remove it from its carton and refill the box with rolls of copper wire before leaving a hardware store.
The Copper Theft Prevention Act (H.R. 6831), introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in August, describes the problem this way "Thefts are on the rise because of the lack of pressure on the scrap and salvage yards that pay for copper and other precious metal without asking questions about where the material came from. Combating the problem will take better communications between metal businesses and law enforcement agencies."