In the three years since consumers in California began paying a fee of $6 to $10 upon the purchase of certain electronic equipment, the state's Electronic Waste Recycling Act (EWRA) has yet to provide enough incentives to public solid waste agencies to sign on as collectors of electronic waste, commonly called e-waste.

The fees charged to consumers are deposited into a state account that is used to pay qualified e-waste collectors and recyclers to cover their costs of managing e-waste.

The state is home to more than 400 municipalities, but just 140 solid waste agencies have signed on as e-waste collectors in which they are entitled to a portion of that fee on all recovered and recycled e-waste pulled from their facilities.

The state assembly currently is considering an amendment to Assembly Bill 218, which would add clarifications to California's RoHS Law (Restriction on the use of certain Hazardous Substances), which was designed to limit the amounts of certain hazardous heavy metals in e-waste to prevent them from entering the waste stream.

For more information, visit the California Integrated Waste Management Board. (www.ciwmb.ca.gov/electronics)

Although the legislation (both the EWRA and the RoHS Law) has yet to achieve the goal of removing 50% of e-waste from the waste stream, it has proven somewhat successful: E-waste accounts for 481,353 tons (or 1.2%) of the state's total solid waste, and in just the first year after fees were imposed, recycled e-waste nearly doubled to 64,500 tons in 2006 from 32,500 tons a year earlier.

But in September the portion of the fee is set to drop to 39 cents/pound from 43 cents/pound for the recycler, and the collectors (in this case the public solid waste agencies) receive just 16 cents/pound. So what's the incentive for public solid waste agencies? Some say the small payback is better than nothing.

The list of private collectors and recyclers in California keeps growing-it's currently approaching 600 statewide and ranges from auction houses to nonprofits.

Eighteen other states have passed similar legislation. In some states, such as Minnesota, Missouri, and New Jersey, manufacturers pay a fee to help fund collection programs; New York City has its own cell-phone recycling bill and landfill ban. Six states are considering similar legislation as well. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Nebraska all propose to charge fees to manufacturers, a trend that is gaining in popularity as fewer laws place the responsibility on consumers and instead are shifting it to the manufacturers themselves to fund programs. Some states are even considering legislation to force manufacturers to accept e-waste.

Those types of legislation are designed to help reduce the amount of e-waste in landfills before public solid waste agencies ever get involved, and as more of those agencies themselves sign on as collectors, California's-and ultimately the rest of the nation's-goal of reducing e-waste in landfills by 50% could be realized.

- Michael Fielding

Session: After Three Years...How Do California's E-Waste Regulations Measure Up?
Michelle Nicholls
Senior Project Professional, SCS Engineers, Long Beach, Calif.
Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008
10 -10:50 a.m.