Digging into the Problem of Electronic-Waste Recycling

Tom Johnson | November 22, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Can New Jersey get makers of TVs, computers, and other electronic gear to pay their fair share of recycling costs?

electronic waste
With electronic waste piling up around the state, lawmakers gave final approval yesterday to a bill that would overhaul a recycling program designed to safely dispose of old TVs, computers, and other equipment.

By a 60-12 vote, the legislation (S-981) advanced to the governor’s desk, where it faces an uncertain future. A similar bill was pocket vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie earlier this year at the end of the lame-duck legislative session.

By many accounts, the state’s e-waste recycling program is broken. Under a law passed in 2010, manufacturers of electronic equipment were supposed to cover the cost of recycling the waste, a system that has fallen apart in recent years.

When the market for e-waste declined, manufacturers began cutting back on what they were paying recycling vendors, or, in some cases, stopped participating in the program by saying they had met their obligations under the current law.

That left counties and towns, which collect the material, with nowhere to recycle the waste, while absorbing the cost of the program, according to recycling officials.

“The bill will keep e-waste recycling alive and save taxpayers from assuming the cost that rightfully belongs to computer and television manufacturers,’’ said Frank Brill, a lobbyist representing the Association of New Jersey Recyclers, an industry trade group.

The legislation would allow the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish a statewide standard to collect, transport, and recycle e-waste. Each manufacturer of the electronic equipment would be responsible for the recycling of its market share in weight of covered material.

“Boosting recycling, especially of the new and dangerous materials in ‘e-waste’ is the key to minimizing damage to our environment,’’ said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex), a sponsor of the bill. “Recycled materials consume less energy than using virgin material to make new products, which means less greenhouse gases are emitted because less energy is consumed.’’

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) called the bill a “win-win” for the state. “It’s a commonsense move that will be good for both the economy and the environment,’’ he said.

The state has required the recycling of e-waste, one of the fastest-growing parts of the waste stream, since 2008. The idea is to keep potentially toxic materials out of landfills and incinerators where the pollutants could foul the water or air.

Old color TVs and computers used cathode-ray tubes in their video display units, which contain lead, a highly toxic compound. With the advent of flat-screen technology, there is not as much demand to recycle the tubes, depressing the market and lowering the price.

“We support getting waste out of landfills, and this is a step in the right direction,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “These product are sitting in stacks in recycling centers and county garages.’’