Before the Joint Standing Committee on Natural Resources
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 strongly support LD 536, and we thank Representative Hinck for bringing this issue 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 (1).
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 TV’s 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.
I worked on the original legislation in 2004, worked on the governing rules with the BEP in 2005, and authored a progress report on the law in 2007, which I’ve attached to my testimony. From our work on this issue, we’ve ascertained the following:
Maine’s e-waste recycling law has been a huge success.
Other states have built on Maine’s success and developed recycling systems incorporating more products.
Maine now needs to update the law to include additional products and reduce the regulatory burden for manufacturers. The bill would:
Currently, recyclers charge around 30 cents per pound to recycle printers, bringing the average cost to recycle a printer to be between $3 and $5 (4). Printers have low value circuit boards. Recyclers say they are hard to take apart – as in they take a long time, much worse than computers – and they sometimes have no or very low commodity value. If they are all-in-1 machines (with a scanner) then they probably also contain mercury lamps.
Video games are a 40 billion industry and the third fastest-growing segment of the entertainment and media market after TV distribution and Internet advertising (5). The game consoles market is one of the fastest growing in consumer electronics – over 60 million game consoles were sold, and the sector saw a 14 percent growth over the last year (6). In 2008, NPD, a national sales and marketing research group found that 72% of people aged 6-44 in the US played video games in 2007 (7). With the increasing popularity of newer and better game consoles, consumers are trading out their old units for faster action, more exciting graphics and better games on the new consoles. We should incorporate this fast-growing segment of electronic waste into Maine’s e-waste collection system.
Sales of digital picture frames have exploded over the last few years growing by more than 100% a year in 2007 and 2008. The price has consistently come down, so that many products are priced at or near $100. These products are essentially miniature LCD monitors and include small amounts of mercury and other toxic materials. They should be included in Maine’s e-waste system as a covered product.
E-waste is STILL the fastest growing waste stream in the United States. New technology is leading consumers to trash their old products at faster and faster rates, even if they still work. Products are becoming more and more disposable – much cheaper to replace than fix. Also, with the developing world yearning to live lives of greater prosperity and comfort, it’s vitally important for the developed nations to continually improve the design and recycle-ability of products so that we’re designing products to be collected, recycled and remanufactured into new ones. If we plan on keeping our current lifestyle, we simply cannot source all of our products from the natural world through the linear exploitation of natural resources at the front end and the wasting of valuable, reusable materials at the back end.
An option that we’ve considered to more broadly address the problem of waste in society is to adopt framework product stewardship principles in statute – potentially using parts of the model provided by our e-waste law – and develop collection and recycling systems through administrative rulemaking at the BEP. This could also be done through major substantive rulemaking to provide oversight by the legislature. Called framework EPR, or (extended producer responsibility), this model would convene a process to ascertain which new products can be incorporated into collection and recycling systems, and involve manufacturers in paying for the collection of those products so as to internalize the environmental costs, diverting waste, capturing reusable materials and saving towns and taxpayers money in the process.
We’ve been at the forefront of this growing problem for years and recognize that by acting early, Maine avoided a tsunami of toxic e-waste. It’s important to keep improving the law to encompass the growing amount of electronics products entering the waste stream. Maine lawmakers have an opportunity to reduce waste, save taxpayers money and protect our families and the environment, by improving Maine’s E-waste Law to recycle additional products.
Thank you for your consideration. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
1 “Toxic Chemicals in Electronics.” Electronics Takeback Coalition. www.computertakeback.com/the_problem/toxicchemicals.cfm
2 Maine DEP. NRCM.
3 “State Legislation on E-waste.” Electronics Takeback Coalition. http://www.electronicstakeback.com/promote-good-laws/state-legislation-toolkit/
4 Electronic Recyclers International. www.electronicrecyclers.com/>/a<
5 www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/aug2007/id20070813_120384.htmwww.greenpeace.org/international/news/game-consoles-no-consolation2005087 “NPD: 72% of U.S. Population Played Games in 2007”. Shacknews, 2008-02-04.