Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.
When talking about electronics recycling, most people would agree that it is a good idea. As a matter of fact, I am also confident that if you told people there is a place close to them which offers responsible electronics recycling, they would be more than happy to recycle old computers, cell phones, etc. But what happens when you ask someone to pay to have something recycled? Then the idea of recycling does not look nearly as appealing as before. This raises a very good question – who is responsible for electronics recycling?
This is a much-debated issue in the electronics world. Let’s face it–if a consumer paid a substantial amount of money for a computer, he or she will not be thrilled with the idea of paying more money to dispose of the computer. For many individuals in such a case, the option of storing an old computer sounds better than recycling it for a fee. Manufacturers are also not jumping for joy to recycle and dispose of electronic components with their money. So, once again, whose responsibility is it?
One would think that both parties are equally responsible. I firmly believe that today’s designers, engineers, and manufacturers are responsible for finding ways to use environmentally friendly materials in order to create reliable products. But consumers also need to take on some of the responsibility by utilizing current and upcoming systems in order to recycle our Earth’s quickly depleting resources.
When dealing with electronics recycling, there are two main terms which pop up frequently: advanced recycling fee (ARF) and extended producer responsibility (EPR).
The advanced recycling fee is a fee which is paid when a customer purchases a computer. This fee is applied at the register and will cover the recycling cost of the computer. I highly recommend John Shegerian’s video; he is the chairman and CEO of Electronics Recyclers, Inc. A more detailed explanation of California’s ARF program is also available here.
EPR is based on the principle that the manufacturer is responsible for the entire life cycle of a product, including its end-of-life disposal. For more information, I highly recommend this Waste to Wealth website, because it contains a wealth of information regarding the subject. In addition, Wikipedia also offers good information about EPR concepts.
Since these views differ so greatly, state legislators need to find the best way to alleviate this problem and come up with a mutually agreeable solution; one which would not place the sole responsibility on the consumer or manufacturer, but one which would share the responsibility between the two parties.