Commentary: Recyclers shouldn’t get paid unless they handle e-waste responsibly

By Bonnie Lowenthal
State Assemblymember–54th District

California rightly prides itself as an environmental trailblazer among the states. Our leadership on environmental issues has not only lead to a cleaner, safer environment for the people who live here, but our businesses have attracted as much as 56 percent of the nation’s venture capital for clean and green technologies over the past few years. Being the greenest state isn’t just about new initiatives; it’s also ensuring that our existing environmental programs are efficient and fair.
That’s the point of AB 960, which sets standards on the way recyclers handle electronic waste. Currently, when you buy a “covered” electronic device, usually a TV, a computer monitor or a laptop, you pay a fee at purchase. That fee ensures that hundreds of collectors are willing to recycle it when the time comes. Just recently, the program hit 1 billion tons of electronics recycled, diverting millions of TVs and monitors from landfills.
Unfortunately, everything else with a cord or battery might as well be stamped “no deposit, no return.” Some recyclers take a shortcut with those goods, selling them in bulk to overseas processors that operate with lax, if any, environmental or worker safeguards. In small villages in the developing world, giant piles of cables are set on fire to expose the metal wires and circuit boards are grilled to remove electronic components and then dumped into acid baths to strip out valuable metals under conditions that are toxic to workers, harmful to the environment and completely at odds with the intent of California’s E-Waste Program.
With today’s consumer electronics, faster, smarter and cheaper models come out quicker and quicker, only adding to the mountains of e-waste being shipped overseas for dangerous and toxic “recycling.”
AB 960 seeks to put an end to that. It is not a big, new program; it just says recyclers don’t get paid if they’re not recycling all their e-waste responsibly. There are no new costs, no new fees, just a better way of getting the job done.
A national strategy is needed to effectively handle the e-waste problem. AB 960 is not a coast-to-coast strategy; we in the state Legislature don’t have that authority. We can only continue California’s tradition of being an environmental leader, this time by taking a second look at one of our past innovations. But, as always, when nearly one in 10 Americans start doing something, the other nine just might take notice. 

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