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New law to provide places to dispose of e-waste

Computer equipment along with other trash sits discarded behind an Island dumpster last month. - File photo
Computer equipment along with other trash sits discarded behind an Island dumpster last month.
— image credit: File photo

In March, 2006, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire signed legislation that would make manufacturers of electronic products more responsible for recycling those items.

E-waste has become one of America’s most pressing environmental problems, with a consumer culture of disposability, promoted by retailers and manufacturers, meaning that cell phones, computers and other items are often thrown out after a year or two of use.

The legislation signed by Gregoire in 2006 came into effect on Jan. 1.

It is hoped the legislation will ensure that manufacturers create and maintain free and convenient sites for consumers to recycle their old televisions, computers and other electronic products.

This would be an improvement on the situation of the past where electronics recyclers were few and far between, and often charged a fee for such a service.

But despite having almost two years to prepare for the recycling requirements, the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority (WMMFA), which is the manufacturers group created by state law to implement the recycling plans, has not been able to provide sites for all residents to recycle their electronics.

The Washington Department of Ecology’s Miles Kuntz said this week that the new legislation did allow the manufacturers’ group some latitude.

“Essentially, they have the option to either provide a fixed site for drop-off or conduct a series of pick-ups,” he said.

It is understood that the WMMFA would provide funding to ensure the service was free for residents.

But both Kuntz and WMMFA Executive Director John Friedrick said this week that the provision of permanent sites for free recycling is the ideal.

The new legislation states that for any city or town with a population of greater than ten thousand, the program must provide a minimum of one collection site or alternate collection service.

It also states that a program may provide collection services in forms different than collection sites, such as curbside services, only “if those alternate services provide equal or better convenience to citizens and equal or increased recovery of unwanted covered electronic products.”

The City of Mercer Island provides two events each year, once in the spring and once in the fall, for Islanders to bring unwanted electronics along with other household items for disposal. There is a charge to dispose of certain items.

Before signing the Senate Bill into legislation, Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire vetoed the passing of one significant section, which would outlaw the export of e-waste to other countries.

The devastating effect that the exportation of e-waste has on the environmental and public health of undeveloped nations has been well-reported.

Gregoire vetoed Section 26, which would have banned “the international export of any unwanted covered electronic products or electronic components or electronic scrap derived from such products destined for disposal or recycling that are capable of leaching lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, or selenium or selenium compounds” to countries that had previously allowed such exports.

In an attached statement, Gregoire said “I regret that, based on legal advice, the State of Washington does not have the necessary authority to prohibit the export of electronic waste.

“I will therefore call on the president and Congress to take up this issue and enact legislation that prohibits the export of our hazardous wastes to third world countries that are not prepared to manage them.”

To find a place to recycle electronics on the Eastside go to www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa or call 1-800-RECYCLE to find electronic product recycling services nearby. Some sites take electronics for free.

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