As E-Waste Piles Up, Disposal Costs Continue to Mount

Tom Johnson | September 12, 2016 | Energy & Environment
More and more towns and counties are shelling out serious cash as they try to keep up with a seemingly endless stream of junked PCs, TVs, other electronic gear

The safe disposal of e-waste is threatening to become a headache and fiscal drain for local towns and counties.

With manufacturers stepping back from recycling old televisions, computers, and other electronic equipment, local recycling programs are finding it more difficult and costly to safely dispose of them.

Recyclers are looking for the state to help solve the problem, but so far the Legislature and Christie administration have yet to agree on how best to deal with the issue.

Barring reaching a consensus with the state Department of Environmental Protection by the middle of next month, the Legislature moved to give final approval to a bill (S-981), a version of which was previously pocket vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the bill’s sponsor, is waiting to hear the department’s latest recommendations for amending the measure by October 13. Failing that, Smith is prepared to urge the Assembly to act on the legislation, which once again, would leave the fate of e-waste recycling in the hands of the governor.

“If this governor wants to be the person who destroyed e-waste collection, he will have the opportunity,’’ said Smith, who agreed with the Association of New Jersey Recyclers that the state is facing a crisis when it comes to e-waste recycling.

Back in 2010, a law was passed requiring manufacturers to cover the cost of recycling consumer electronics, a system that has not worked out as well as planned, according to lawmakers and recyclers.

Since the beginning of the year, more towns and counties have tried to recycle e-waste, according to the association, a trade group. This year, Monmouth County’s regional opt-in program lost 15 municipal partners due to cost. Cape May lost its vendor, and then found costs rose to $110,000 for just four months of service.

When the recycling market declined for e-waste, manufacturers began cutting back on what they were paying vendors, said Frank Brill, a lobbyist representing the association. Or they began saying they had met their recycling obligation under the current law.

The trade group is urging the Legislature to quickly vote on the pending bill, saying the DEP’s proposed changes do not go far enough, but Smith said he was encouraged by what he had been told by the agency.

Among other things, the department told him they have come up with an amendment that will protect any government entity from paying for e-waste recycling. “I can’t wait to see it,’’ Smith said, who prefers to reach a consensus on the issue. “If it’s good, we’ll do it; if not, the chips will fall where they may.’’