by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Policy Advocate
Good morning Senator Martin, Representative Koffman and members of the Committee on Natural Resources. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).
NRCM strongly supports LD 1717 and encourages the Committee to vote “Ought to Pass.” We thank Representative Babbidge for bringing this issue to the attention of the committee.
Three years ago, this committee wrestled with arguably one of the most challenging solid waste issues of our time – the growing wave of toxic electronic waste from old computers and television sets that was overwhelming Maine’s municipal services and poisoning our environment. This committee rose to the challenge and demonstrated effective leadership by passing Maine’s first-in-the-nation, landmark e-waste law which created a shared responsibility system with manufacturers, municipalities, solid waste contractors and Maine citizens all participating in the solution. Since then, Maine’s e-waste law has become a model for the nation, and several states and major US cities have adopted or are adopting legislation based on our system.
Now this committee confronts another significant electronic waste issue – the end-of-life hazards posed by cellular phones – and we’re challenged once again to get it right and get the job done for Maine people. Fortunately, there are good models in other states that we can adopt and improve upon to address this issue in Maine.
We all recognize that cell phone use is now ubiquitous in our society, and the rapid advance of technology, with new products like the blackberry and Iphone, is causing consumers to toss their old cell phones for the next latest and greatest. 2005 estimates show that US cell phone use has reached over 175 million subscribers, and that approximately 100 million cell phones are discarded annually(1). Maine’s share of this waste stream translates to approximately 450,000 cell phones thrown away or replaced each year(2). Many of these phones will be stockpiled in drawers and closets before being thrown out in the trash and eventually making their way to landfills and incinerators. In the United Sates, it is estimated that 500 million phones, collectively weighing over 250,000 tons are currently stockpiled and waiting disposal(3).
Cell phones are an especially problematic part of the waste stream because they contain a large amount of hazardous materials, which can be released into the air when burned in incinerators and leach into soil and drinking water when buried in landfills. Cell phones contain a wide variety of persistent toxic compounds, including antimony, arsenic and beryllium, as well as bioaccumulative contaminants like lead, cadmium and brominated flame retardants(4). Collecting cell phones for recycling prevents the potential release of these pollutants and recaptures valuable commodities for reuse in manufacturing new products.
While a number of cell phone collection programs are generally available and the infrastructure is there to support it, the actual number of cell phones recycled is very low. A 2003 report estimates that less than 1% of cell phones are collected for recycling (5) .
In order to achieve a high rate of recycling, Maine DEP recommends that consumers need:
• “to have easy access to collection systems,
• to know of the opportunities to recycle, and
• to have some incentive to “deliver” their used cell phones into the collection and recycling system rather than into their trashcan.”(6)
LD 1717 would codify these recommendations by requiring that all cell-phone retailers in Maine accept used cell phones for recycling at no additional cost to the consumer; and that retailers post a visible sign to alert consumers that they accept used cell phones. This is a similar approach to what New York and California have done and what several other states are proposing in legislation this year.
NRCM encourages the adoption of LD 1717 with the following recommendations:
1) Remove recovery hurdles for consumers at retailers. Currently the legislation only allows for consumers to drop off used cell phones if they purchase a new cell phone. In order to increase recovery rates, consumers should be able to drop off used cell phones at retailers regardless if they make a new purchase or not.
2) Include disposal ban on cell phones. The disposal ban on various universal waste items including mercury-containing products and e-waste has helped to encourage more municipalities to set up collection programs. In addition and perhaps more importantly, the disposal ban has helped to educate Maine people about the hazards of these products and the need for safe disposal and recycling.
3) Direct and specify collaborative outreach. Maine DEP’s report specifies that DEP and SPO “should provide education and outreach support to municipalities and non-profit organizations to institute cell phone recycling and collection programs.” We strongly support this recommendation.
4) Require DEP to report to the Natural Resources Committee on recycling rates. As DEP will be compiling data on units sold and cell phone recovery rates, they should report back to the committee on rates and retailer compliance in the Spring of 2009. This would allow for enough data collection to determine the effectiveness of the legislation.
5) Include provision to adopt “incentive” legislation if recycling rates are unsatisfactory. We recommend including a provision that would allow the committee to adopt legislation that would include financial incentive language if the recycling rates are unsatisfactory. We would be happy to work with the committee on this provision.
In conclusion, we would ask the committee to continue in your excellent tradition of leadership on electronic waste issues and add cell phone recycling to your list of accomplishments.
Thank you for your time, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
1 “Calling all Cell Phones: Collection, Reuse and Recycling Programs in the US.” Inform, Inc. 2003.
2 “Report on the Recycling of Cellular Telephones in Maine.” Maine DEP. January, 2007.
3 “Calling all Cell Phones: Collection, Reuse and Recycling Programs in the US.” Inform, Inc. 2003.
6 “Report on the Recycling of Cellular Telephones in Maine.” Maine DEP. January, 2007.