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Recently passed laws in Washington and Maine are making manufacturers bear more of the burden of e-waste than they've had to. Photo: Jenni Spinner

The Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) model legislation mentioned in your article also takes the product stewardship approach. Manufacturers can either pay a fee to the state that will cover the costs of collection and recycling of electronics or they can set up a collection and recycling system on their own. If a local government wants to collect e-waste it can do so and be compensated for it—as can retailers or non-profits that also may wish to collect.

The salient point is that while local governments may feel they have to act right now to address the e-waste issue, they should consider actions that promote, rather than impede, product stewardship solutions.

For ideas of how local governments can establish e-waste programs while paving the way for product stewardship, read the Northwest Product Stewardship Council's “Consideration for Local Communities Related to the Collection of Used Electronics” at www.productstewardship.net.

One example of this approach is the Take It Back Network currently active in several Washington State counties (www.takeitbacknetwork.org). Under this program, government helped establish a level playing field and provided marketing and recycling guidelines for a network of private sector collectors that accept electronic waste from the public. Significantly, this now-established body of collectors will be able to segue seamlessly into the manufacturer-funded program mandated by the recently passed Washington state law.

Local governments were one of the chief engines behind the passage of this bill. Indeed, there are many ways that local governments can work with the private sector to establish product stewardship programs that share the responsibilities and costs of managing these difficult waste streams. Municipalities owe it to their ratepayers to start moving toward such product stewardship solutions.

— David Stitzhal is coordinator, Bill Smith is co-chair, and Scott Klag is co-chair of the Northwest Product Stewardship Council. Contact them at info@productstewardship.net.