The beauty of Maine’s new electronic waste recycling law is not that the state is forcing manufacturers to pay for the program.
Truth be told, the makers of televisions, computers and other electronic devices can be counted upon to pass any costs on to consumers. So it’s not all that significant that fees will be collected from product makers rather than purchasers.
What is significant, however, is that the law doesn’t just collect fees from manufacturers, but gives them an incentive to reduce the costs of disposing of their products.
Maine’s electronic recycling law went into effect this week. Under it, local communities can send their e-waste to a consolidation facility that will see to its proper disposal. The consolidation operation in turn bills the manufacturer.
No doubt, those costs will get passed on to consumers, but not in a uniform way. If a company makes a product that is cheaper to recycle, it will get billed less under the law.
That means, relative to the competition, manufacturers have a chance to make money with the new recycling law. If a competitor’s product costs $20 to dispose of, a company could make a greater profit by designing a unit that only costs to $10 recycle.
Given the size of the Maine market, the incentives for manufacturers will be small. No one should expect Sony to redesign its televisions to gain an edge in Maine disposal fees.
However, other states are looking at Maine’s approach as a model for e-waste recycling programs. If the approach catches on, it could ignite a race to create more environmentally friendly electronics.
That’s public policy at its best. Maine has not only helped local communities with the nettlesome problem of e-waste, it has done so in a way that puts market forces to work in favor of a cleaner environment.