DNR: Wisconsin endorses Midwest policy for managing electronic waste

MADISON – Wisconsin and four other Midwest states have endorsed a regional policy statement for managing electronic wastes such as computers and televisions that would rely on producers of these items for proper environmental management.

Industry, environmental groups, recyclers and other interested parties worked with state environmental agencies in Wisconsin and the other Midwest states to explore policy options. States can use the new policy to draft consistent electronic waste management legislation, says Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett.

“The department supports a regional approach to recycling electronic waste,” Hassett says. “The Midwest regional policy initiative shows the commitment Wisconsin and its neighbors have toward making electronic waste recycling a priority.”

The sheer volume of computers, televisions and other electronic products that are currently being thrown away for lack of easy access to environmentally sound recycling options “is staggering,” says Suzanne Bangert, director of DNR’s Bureau of Waste and Materials Management.

“Our local governments are concerned that they will be responsible for financing and managing environmentally sound collection and recycling of this material,” she says. “They are asking state governments and legislators to lead the way toward a workable solution across multiple Midwest states.”

The Midwest policy has the official support of state environmental agencies in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, and endorsement is expected shortly from Minnesota, she says.

The Midwest is not alone in seeking a regional approach to the problem of “e-waste.” Earlier this year, the Northeast Recycling Council, working with the Council of State Legislators, produced model legislation for its 10 member states to use for a consistent, harmonized approach to managing e-waste in that region. The New York State Legislature is considering adopting this model, and other states have indicated they will introduce legislation in the near future.

Many other states have one or more bills proposed or under consideration. Four states have adopted e-waste legislation, but no two are alike. California requires an advance recycling fee placed on certain products when they are purchased and uses the fees to pay for recycling the products. Maine, Maryland and Washington have all passed legislation requiring manufacturers to take responsibility for e-waste recycling, but each law has unique requirements.

A national system for managing e-waste would simplify the task, but Bangert says national legislation is not likely in the near future.

“A regional approach provides the next best option,” she says. “Managing electronic wastes across a region rather than a patchwork of individual state laws gives industry, governments and consumers fewer rules and regulations to understand and comply with.”

The Midwest policy and the Northeast model legislation include similar principles. In both, manufacturers are responsible for collecting, transporting and recycling a specific amount of electronic products based on the manufacturer’s sales in the state. Manufacturers who do not have a recycling program for managing their electronic waste may meet their obligation by paying into a recycling fund. Retailers’ responsibilities include reporting sales data to manufacturers, and only selling products of complying manufacturers.

Both the Midwest policy and Northeast model legislation include a disposal ban to be put in place after two years. The Midwest policy also allows states to be part of a multi-state organization to help put comparable recycling policies in place across multiple states.

The policy, letters of support from the five Midwest state agencies, and additional information is available at the Minnesota Product Stewardship Web site, http://www.moea.state.mn.us/stewardship/electronicsmidwest.cfm.