Death of Advanced Recycling Fee?

Note: This post was written by SEI staff, Aida Sefic Williams.

In the last few weeks, the issue of California’s e-waste recycling has become an increasingly prominent issue.¬† When speaking of US electronic waste rules, the general statement was “California is the only one with an advanced recycling fee (ARF)”, but their process seemed to work. After all, California’s e-waste laws have been in place much longer than e-waste legislation of other states. Unfortunately, it seems that California’s model of e-waste collection has unfortunately failed.

It seems that in 2002, when e-waste legislation was first considered and drafted, California also considered manufacturer responsibility legislation (Modesto Bee), which is currently used by 21 states. The voices of the tech industry, however, prevailed and California passed an e-waste recycling law requiring an advanced recycling fee (ARF). Given this legislation, when a customer purchases a new monitor or television, they are charged a fee (between $8 and $25), which should in turn be used to recycle the purchased equipment. The goal of the program was to provide a way for consumers to dispose of their electronics responsibly while providing funds for a green industry (Sacramento Bee). While the state had good intentions, no one could foresee the fraudulent activities that would take place.

Due to the amount of state-funding, hundreds of new electronics recyclers sprung up throughout the state (Merced Sun-Star). State officials passing the ARF legislation only counted on the environmental spirits in the state, but they did not foresee the greed that would take over the program. This has led to organizations importing electronics from Arizona and other neighboring states, in order to recycle the electronics within California and receive money for recycling such electronics products. To date, the state of California has paid approximately $320 million for electronics recycling, since the law’s passing in 2005 (Desert Dispatch). The state additionally recognizes that approximately $30 million have been used to recycle electronics which came in from other states, but it has rejected approximately $23 million of fraudulent claims. The Sacramento Bee offers a chart detailing California’s recyclers with the most claim denials.

Understandably, many are angered by the news and knowing their money is used to recycle e-waste¬† brought in from illegally other states. Environmentalists, however, have another problem with California’s law and its mistreatment – the disposal of usable monitors. California’s model makes it more enticing for people to recycle their “old” but usable monitors, instead of using them until they physically break or donating them to a charitable organization. ScrippsNews tackles this issue in their article “Mounds of usable computer monitors in Calif. dumps“.

So how can California handle this apparent fraud and misuse of their laws and funds? Will they change their laws to reflect other US states? If so, how long will this process take? What can be done in the meantime? These questions need answers – and soon! The failing system needs to go to the root of the problem, update legislation to meet these new challenges, and with proper care and maintenance, the system will be working better, more effectively, and should last for a very long time.