by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Clean Production Project Director
“We accept responsibility for continually improving the environmental design aspects of our products and their end-of-life management. Dell encourages this same level of responsibility from other producers throughout the electronics industry.” – Dell Computers, Inc. Corporate Responsibility Summary Report, 2010
Senator Saviello, Representative Hamper and members of the Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville and I’m the Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. Over the past 8 years, I’ve worked on most of Maine’s product stewardship legislation including our e-waste, mercury thermostats, cell phones, and mercury lamps recycling laws. Just like the bottle bill, these laws direct manufacturers to fund the collection and recycling of their products at the end of the product’s useful life, promoting the sustainable reuse of materials and preventing the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment. In addition, they reduce costs for local governments and taxpayers and create jobs through the collection and recycling of formerly discarded products.
In 2010, the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) was a key player in the effort to establish a more predictable, consistent approach to evaluating and developing product stewardship (or extended producer responsibility – EPR) initiatives in Maine. After much negotiation and a lot of hard work from all sides, the framework product stewardship law was also supported by the Maine Merchants Association and Maine Chamber of Commerce. It was passed by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate last April without a fiscal note. I have attached a flow chart to my testimony to explain how it works.
The new law codified product stewardship as a policy tool to support Maine’s waste management hierarchy. In addition to directing DEP to identify new candidate products for product stewardship initiatives, and review existing programs for improvements, the law also streamlined DEP’s reporting process for Maine’s six existing product stewardship laws and allowed the agency to make recommendations through one annual report to the Natural Resources Committee instead of through six separate reports. The report is to be posted at least one month prior to your receiving it for review so that stakeholders have ample time to review it and provide unfiltered comments to this Committee. The three bills before you today are a direct result of that process.
While we are here to focus on the legislation at hand, we are disappointed that you have not yet received the Department’s report. While we understand that the new administration has different priorities that the previous one, this process was supported by Republicans and Democrats alike as well as environmental and business groups. Also, while many industry sectors oppose product stewardship, many others now support it and are working proactively with government and other stakeholders to develop and implement product stewardship policies around the world. In addition, even though Maine has been a leader on product stewardship in the United States, we’re well behind places like the European Union and Canada, which are implementing stewardship plans to get pretty much everything you can think of out of the waste stream and into recycling operations.
Whatever one may think about product stewardship, it’s not going away and is only going to increase. It’s important for stakeholders in Maine to dialogue with DEP and SPO, the state’s solid waste agencies, and with each other to confront the challenges and opportunities associated with this policy arena. We have urged and will continue to urge the administration to continue this process in good faith.
We began seriously working on product stewardship in 2003 when Maine people were discarding an estimated 80,000 waste television sets and computer monitors, adding almost 4 million pounds of toxic trash to Maine’s solid waste system (1). Such waste constituted the single largest source of lead and other toxic heavy metals to Maine’s solid waste stream. While a few Maine towns did collect TVs and monitors for recycling, they typically charged between $15 and $30 a unit to do so. This fee provided a significant disincentive for citizens to bring their e-waste for recycling, and many outdated electronics were simply stockpiled in closets, garages and attics. In 2003, an estimated 400,000 TVs and computers were stockpiled in Maine homes, and that number was expected to grow to one million units by 2010 (2).
In 2004, we worked side by side with the international computer and information technology companies, Dell and Hewlett Packard to pass a manufacturer responsibility law for electronic waste (e-waste). Since then, Maine has recycled over 30 million pounds of e-waste, saved taxpayers more than $20 million dollars, and prevented more than 6 million pounds of lead and other toxics from entering our environment (3). Today, 23 other states have also enacted producer responsibility laws to recycle unwanted electronics and many more are working on bills this session (4).
Back then, it was Dell, HP and NRCM versus most of the rest of the electronics industry on manufacturer responsibility for e-waste. Now, most electronics companies, including many of the opponents of Maine’s original e-waste recycling legislation are supporters of product stewardship for electronics and have supported e-waste laws across the country. This has signaled a remarkable shift that is also occurring in other industry sectors on product stewardship. There are now more than 60 EPR laws passed in 32 states on 9 different product categories (5).
Currently large companies, schools and institutions comply with Maine’s solid waste disposal ban on e-waste and mercury-containing lamps primarily through contracting with companies that provide collection services. Residents can choose either municipal or participating retail sites. Small businesses, and other small generators like churches, libraries, community schools and small non-profits, are in the middle and would be better served by being able to also take advantage of these collection options at reasonably-allowable limits.
Currently, 15 out of the 24 states with e-waste laws allow small generators to take advantage of the recycling programs. Some states like Michigan, Oregon, Connecticut set limits on the amount of units that can be dropped off at any one time. Others like New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Jersey and Indiana place limits according to how many people a company employs. Some other states don’t specify one way or the other, and it’s possible that even large generators can take advantage of the e-waste recycling initiatives in those states (I have not yet determined the answer to this).
You could include all generators, but this strategy may overwhelm municipal and participating retail collection sites. We believe that if you want to capture the target audience of small businesses, small charities and community schools, while excluding larger businesses and institutions that have greater resources and options, it makes sense to set some type of limit on the amount of units that can be dropped off. We hope that the committee will refine this proposal and expand options for small generators throughout the state.
In closing, with solid waste costs at 10% of municipal budgets (currently $72 million statewide) and rising every year, product stewardship is an important tool to reduce those costs, build local businesses and protect the environment at the same time. Traditional solid waste management is about government-run, taxpayer-funded programs. Product stewardship is essentially about privatizing the waste stream with government oversight to ensure that the public’s interest is protected. As product stewardship programs mature, there’s less and less government involvement. As we’ve seen with Maine’s e-waste law, once the manufacturer-run plan is up and running, government primarily takes on auditing role, and not much more.
1 Clark, Paula. Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “Testimony of Paula Clark before the Joint Committee on Natural Resources on L.D. 1892.” 2/15/2004.
3 “Implementing Product Stewardship in Maine.” Maine DEP. December 2010. Added in estimates for 2010, and calculated savings based on average allowable costs per pound recycled.
4 Scope of Products in E-waste Laws. Electronics Takeback Coalition. http://www.calpsc.org/policies/state/index.html5 Product Stewardship Institute. http://www.calpsc.org/policies/state/index.html