Electronics Industry Outlines Plan For National E-Recycling Program

The plan represents a consensus among IT and TV manufacturers on the best way to implement a national program to meet the electronics recycling challenge.
The Electronic Industries Alliance has released an outline for a national recycling program for household TVs and technology equipment.

EIA's Environmental Issues Council, which includes Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Panasonic, and Sharp, approved and released a plan it hopes will become federal policy. EIA said Thursday that the alliance had delivered copies to the White House, key federal lawmakers, state government leaders, industry stakeholders, and environmental advocacy organizations.

"This framework represents the first consensus agreement among IT and TV manufacturers on meeting the nation's electronics recycling challenge," said Matt Flanigan, EIA's interim president and CEO, in a prepared statement. "We're offering these ideas to advance the work of Senator Ron Wyden, Representatives Mike Thompson, Mary Bono, Louise Slaughter, Zach Wamp, Albert Wynn, and so many others seeking a national solution."

The proposal calls for the separation of TVs from desktop computers, laptops, and computer monitors. TVs have an expected lifespan of 15 to 17 years and are purchased by individual consumers from retailers, according to EIA. That means a company can rapidly gain a significant market share and disappear a few years later, EIA pointed out. For those reasons, an industry-sponsored third-party organization should collect and recycle TVs, with support from small consumer fees at the time of purchase, the EIA plan states. The fee would expire when most "legacy" sets are recovered.

Consumers usually buy IT equipment directly from manufacturers. The equipment has an expected lifespan of six to eight years, the EIA said. Each IT equipment producer should implement a program to collect and recycle its own products in a way that is convenient and free for consumers, according to EIA. Manufacturers should be required to have such programs as a condition of conducting business, EIA said.

"This agreement among consumer electronics and information technology manufacturers marks a watershed event for proactively addressing the electronics waste management issue," David A. Thompson, director of Panasonic Corp. of North America's Corporate Environmental Department, said in a statement. "By recognizing the unique product distribution channels and customer usage patterns, EIA's agreement will facilitate greater electronic product recycling in an environmentally prudent and cost effective manner."

All programs would have to ensure exclusive reliance on providers that comply with established environmentally sound management standards and business practices. EIA is among many groups working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop best management practices for electronics recyclers.

The proposal would also require recyclers to meet the European Union's Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive and a similar California law.

"The RoHS Directive has become the de facto worldwide standard and electronics companies are providing RoHS-compliant TVs and IT products from coast to coast here in the United States," Rick Goss, EIA's VP of environmental affairs, said in a statement. "Our companies design, manufacture and sell these products in the global marketplace and strongly support one consistent set of requirements."

The proposal also calls on Congress to require the federal government to purchase environmentally preferable IT equipment, such as those products meeting the standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products (PDF).

Goss said that the electronics industry is going green across the entire product lifecycle.

"Every year electronic products are more energy efficient, more sustainable, and easier to upgrade, disassemble, and recycle," he said. "Consumers should look to reuse, resell, or donate working items whenever possible. When that's not an option, recycling is the only environmentally responsible choice."

Goss said that manufacturers made concessions to produce the proposal. "We sincerely hope that other stakeholders will be motivated by the same spirit of compromise as we seek a uniform recycling program that our country wants and needs," he said.