Testimony at the Maine Legislature
by Jon Hinck, NRCM toxics project director
Senator Martin. Representative Koffman. Honorable Committee Members. I am Jon Hinck, a Staff Attorney and Toxics Project Director with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appear today on behalf of the Council in support of LD 1892.
I would like to start by commending the Committee for your action of a year ago, when you passed LD 743, which was signed into law. As you know, that legislation set the end date for disposal of cathode ray tubes in landfills and incinerators as of January 1, 2006. It also initiated the process for developing a system designed to collect and recycle the diverted electronic scrap or “e-waste.”
At the time, my organization backed a very strong producer responsibility model, in which manufacturers solely bear responsible for collecting, recycling, and disposing of their products, at the end of their useful life. After participating in the process over the months since LD 743 passed, we have come to realize that “shared responsibility” between consumers, municipalities, the state, retailers and manufacturers, is most appropriate. This approach is reflected in the bill now before the Committee.
We also commend the Department of Environmental Protection for the careful and deliberate way it went about the task of convening stakeholders, sifting through data and figuring out the best system for Maine. The legislation before you is the product of a careful assessment of a challenging problem and the best current models for dealing with it. It is also a careful balancing of interests.
This bill will create a system to responsibly handle the growing tide of e-waste. In summary, the law would require:
1) By January 1, 2006, the establishment of consolidation centers for obsolete computers and TVs at locations throughout the state;
2) At the same time, manufacturers of computers would become responsible for the shipping and safe recycling of their own branded computers;
3) The collection of a six-dollar “advanced recovery fee” on retail sales of TVs beginning January 1, 2005 and ending in 2012. This fee would pay for collection and recycling of TVs as well as “orphan” computers and would defray the costs that would otherwise fall on municipalities to ship recovered e-waste to the consolidation centers;
4) Finally, collective manufacturer responsibility for all TVs and computers would begin on January 1, 2012.
This bill combines the best aspects of systems that have been developed elsewhere. It is fair to say that the efforts of the past year have been productive. On the other hand, another year has only underscored the need to get an e-waste collection and recycling system up and running.
We are more aware today than ever of the public health problems created by exposure to the toxic compounds found in electronic equipment, including lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, PVC and brominated flame retardants. These byproducts of the high-tech revolution are poisons if not properly managed at the end of their useful life. In addition, another year has only confirmed that e-waste is already being mishandled or simply dumped here in Maine, as elsewhere. This occurs because in most areas there is simply no convenient, inexpensive place to get rid of this stuff.
A year ago, the Committee was told that a formal national dialogue known as the National Electronic Product Stewardship Initiative (“NEPSI”) would soon produce a comprehensive national framework with a solution for the e-waste problem that would serve the needs of Maine along with other states. This effort was organized by the Environmental Protection Agency in April of 2001 and was highly touted by the manufacturers. In February of this year, NEPSI was abandoned with no tangible results after it became apparent that there would be no agreement on how to finance an e-waste recycling system.
In the end, those who have grappled with the issue have identified two major non-taxpayer based funding mechanisms: the advanced recovery fee and extended producer responsibility. Under the advanced recovery fee, a fee is collected on the retail sale of electronic products. Producer responsibility requires that the manufacturer of each electronic product assume control of it at the end of its product life.
California has passed e-waste legislation within the past year. The California system is entirely based on advance recovery fees of six to ten dollars on both TVs and computers.
LD 1892 adopts part of the California approach. However, the advance recovery fee proposed here would be on retail sales of TVs but not on computers.
The DEP correctly concluded that the TV market was not ready for producer responsibility and that putting fees on computer sales is not the best approach.
LD 1892 does require producer responsibility for computer makers. It also recognizes differences between the TV market and the computer market. For example, computer sales via the internet are and will remain much more common than internet sales for TVs, which are relatively negligible. This, and other factors, combine to make the fee system better for TVs in the near term, and producer responsibility the right approach for handling computers in the medium term.
Although the LD 1892 would not create a full producer responsibility system, the producer responsibility component of the measure will provide great benefits. LD 1892 will, for the first time, shift some responsibility from the current emphasis at the waste end, back toward the front end of the product cycle This remains the most constructive way to put the skills and resources of the manufacturers to use in ways that will reduce the burden on Maine municipalities, the State and the taxpayers. Bear in mind, that the manufacturers are the parties with control over the design, manufacturing and marketing of the electronic devices that become e-waste. Without sharing responsibility as called for in this bill, they lack direct incentives to improve recyclability and reduce toxicity of their products. This is where Maine will get the benefit of market-based solutions.
I am aware that some are reluctant to see Maine take the lead. However, this problem is upon us and it requires constant attention, even if no legislative action is taken. We should also recognize both that both the fees and producer responsibility proposed here are already well-established policy elsewhere. The same companies that sell electronics in the Maine market have already found ways of handling similar legislation elsewhere. For instance, the European Union’s Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) went into force last year. This directive makes all producers responsible for the life cycle of their electronic products. The companies have adapted in Europe and continue to operate profitably.
In the United States, Maine is particularly well-suited to move forward. Our state government is ready to hold up its end of the shared responsibility system. The Electronic Industries Association observed as much in comments it submitted to the Department. Discussing shared responsibility, EIA wrote
“Availability of a collection infrastructure, recycling technology, and local attitudes towards recycling should drive decisions regarding which electronic products can be managed cost-effectively within a given area. EIA applauds Maine’s leadership in this area and the infrastructure that the state has established through the grant process. EIA and our member companies recognize that Maine’s contribution to this effort and the continued promise to establish consolidation points, provide education and enforcement is a significant commitment to the shared responsibility formula.”
I am pleased to share with you some new polling data that demonstrates that Maine citizens are well disposed to tackling the e-waste problem. In February of this year, the Natural Resources Council of Maine commissioned Critical Insights of Portland to conduct a poll. Some 400 adults, 18 years or older, all of whom are self-reported “consistent voters” were asked the following question: “Do you support a proposal for the State to require computer manufacturers to establish a system that recovers and recycles obsolete computers – which contain lead, mercury, and other toxic materials?” Those surveyed were asked to answer on a scale of one to five, where “one means you don’t support the proposal at all and five means you support it strongly.” The net support, those answering four or five, was 73 percent. The net opposed, those answering one or two, was just 13 percent. This indicates solid support, and as you can see support was found throughout the state. This is one of the fortunate situation where implementing the right policy at the right time will be popular in Maine.
The Council urges Committee members to vote to pass L.D. 1892 and initiate Maine’s solution to the e-waste problem. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.