by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Project Director
Good afternoon Senator Goodall, Representative Duchesne and members of the Natural Resources Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville, and I’m the Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership-supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 12,000 members and supporters and promote science-based, solutions-oriented policy on a variety of issues including energy, land conservation, river restoration and preventing toxic pollution.
We support LD 1156, and we thank Senator Simpson for bringing this bill to the attention of the committee. For years, electronic waste (e-waste) has been the fast growing category of waste in Maine and around the nation. Electronic waste, such as printers, televisions, computers and video game consoles, contain toxic substances, including lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and PVC plastics that create dioxins when burned. These toxic materials can be released upon disposal, posing a threat to human health and the environment.
In 2004, Maine legislators recognized the growing threat from toxic components in e-waste and this committee provided the leadership that resulted in passage of our unprecedented e-waste recycling law. That law incorporated product manufacturers into setting up and funding a collection and recycling program. It resulted in Maine people having an opportunity to safely dispose of their obsolete computers and TVs more easily and at lower cost than before the law was passed. With the switch to digital TV looming near in the future and Maine people quickly trading out their boxy, old tube TV set for a sleek flat screen, we are fortunate to have an effective law in place.
LD 1156 would change how TV manufacturers fund the collection and recycling of their products. Currently, when a pallet of TVs comes into a consolidator’s treatment facility, the TVs are separated according to brand, and each individual manufacturer is sent a bill for their share of e-waste. This is known as a “return share” system or “individual producer responsibility.” LD 1156 would change that funding model to a “market share” system, assigning costs based on national market share data. Instead of separating each TV out according to brand, the consolidator would weigh the pallet and send the manufacturer a bill based on their percentage of the current market for television sets sold in the United States. In theory, this would streamline the system for TV manufacturers and consolidators and reduce sorting costs.
The argument in favor of “individual producer responsibility” (IPR) is that it promotes green design by assigning costs to the manufacturer who made the product. Making each producer responsible for financing the end-of-life costs of their own-branded products enables end-of-life costs to be fed back to the individual producer. By modifications to the product design or end of life management strategy, such as designing out toxic materials or making the product easier to disassemble and recycle, the producer can directly influence the end of life cost. Without IPR, these incentives for design improvements are lost. We believe this holds true for computers and other products that have useful life spans between 1 and 10 years.
However, with a product like a television set that may have a useful life span of 15 to 20 years or more, it’s hard to see how IPR policies influence green design or create incentives for better end of life management because of the long lag time between the sale and end-of-life management of the product.
Because IPR holds the company that made the product accountable for recycling, it fairly assigns costs for legacy waste – i.e. companies like IBM or Apple which have a lot of old computers out there still have to pay their fair share. However, you may miss new market entrants that sell TVs for a few years and then drop out of the marketplace. Their products would be “orphans,” whose recycling costs would have to be paid by the rest of the manufacturers collectively.
With market share, you catch the new market players, but you lose the legacy producers, so you win some, you lose some. It’s important to note that if you were to propose this system for computers, you would likely get many manufacturers in the room to oppose it as they would not want to pay to recycle all of IBM’s old 486 or old Apple Mac computers.
We believe that the modification proposed by LD 1156 does not weaken the program, and given that it may reduce operating costs for consolidators, thus reducing costs for participating manufacturers and making it easier for them to comply with the law, NRCM is happy to support it.
Thank you for your consideration. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.