What do Europe, China, Japan and Korea have that the U.S. doesn't?
National RoHS and WEEE laws.
In fact, we are the only major economic region in the world that hasn't embraced national legislation to properly dispose of electronic products or to regulate hazardous substances that go into them. In light of that vacuum, many of our states have proposed and/or enacted laws regulating e-recycling, and to a lesser degree, restrictions on the substances used in components or finished electronic products.
California, always a bellwether, enacted RoHS-like legislation that took effect the first of this year. Other U.S. states looking to enact similar legislation include Minnesota, Maine, New Jersey, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.
Seven U.S. states have already passed their own e-waste legislation and 12 others have pending or proposed legislation. A detailed state-by-state breakdown is available on Newark's website, under Step One. Currently, California makes consumers pay an upfront state fee or tax when purchasing an electronic device. The state uses the money collected to pay for the collection, recycling and disposal of end-of-life electronic devices. Texas, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Maryland and Washington make it the manufacturer's responsibility to take back and dispose of the electronic devices they sell or pay a fee to the state that covers the cost of collecting and recycling these items.
Why is this a problem?
First, complying with a patchwork of state laws is extremely costly and already poses a burden for the electronics industry. As more and more state laws take effect, the cost of tracking and meeting varying local requirements for manufacturers, distributors and recyclers will be too staggering to contemplate.
We actually need both WEEE and RoHS national laws, as they work hand in hand.
RoHS makes recycling electronic/electrical products safer. This is critical, considering the fact that tens of millions of tons of obsolete electrical devices are currently discarded around the world each year. Only 10 percent are recycled or refurbished and most now end up in landfills. As the life cycles of our computers, TVs, cell phones and audio devices continue to shrink, the e-waste problem is growing at an alarming rate.
Secondly, U.S. competitiveness is at stake. By passing RoHS legislation, China and Korea ensure their manufacturers meet international standards and are able to continue exporting electronic goods to the European Union (EU) and the rest of the world. China already manufactures about 25 percent of the electronic devices imported into the EU.
There has been pressure building for our government to enact a uniform national e-waste (or WEEE) law over the past few years. In November 2005, Congress asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct hearings and study the e-waste problem. Its report, Strengthening the Role of the Federal Government in Encouraging Recycling and Reuse, recommended a national WEEE-style rule be written.
My company, Newark, has been vocal on the need for federal legislation for the past year, but the electronics industry as a whole has been quiet on the subject, until just recently.
The Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA), a national trade policy organization comprised of electronic and high-tech associations and manufacturers, just released a consensus framework to the Bush Administration, Congress, state officials and environmental advocacy groups. The framework paves the way for federal legislation to establish a national program for recycling household TVs and IT products such as computers and monitors.
Plus, another provision of the framework calls for meeting the materials restrictions established by the EU's RoHS directive.
It's about time, isn't it?