BOSTON (State House News Service) - Television, computer and other electronics manufacturers would be required to recycle their old products once consumers discard them, under a bill endorsed by a legislative committee immediately following a hearing on it.
If passed by the Legislature, Massachusetts would join 24 other states which have imposed requirements on consumer electronics manufacturers to dispose of products after they are sold. State lawmakers for years have debated the idea that environmentalists say will lead to more recycling but manufacturers argue creates burdensome and costly regulations. Many manufacturers already voluntarily recycle their products, according to electronic company officials.
Phillip Sego, acting chair of legislative action at the Massachusetts Sierra Club, said during an Environment Committee hearing that few people take advantage of their community's collection days, and instead put electronic waste in their household trash. Electronics are among the fastest growing wastes, as technology advances and the lifecycles of products get shorter, according to Sego.
Sego argued mandating better recycling procedures would create jobs, saying recycling creates eight to 10 times the number of jobs than disposal.
Lynne Pledger, coordinator of the Massachusetts Products Stewardship Council, which represents 36 cities and towns, said her organization favors regulations that ensure that people now paying a fee to dispose of electronics in municipal programs will be able will be able to drop off their electronics for free.
Rep. Matthew Beaton (R-Shrewsbury) expressed concern about costs to manufacturers "and the costs that will therefore trickle down to the consumers?"
The bill (S 386) was reported to the Senate. Similar legislation (S 2380) last session failed to make it out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The Environment Committee also last week endorsed a bill aimed at ensuring the environmentally safe disposal of mercury thermostats, legislation that quickly moved though the Ways and Means Committee and was teed up Tuesday for floor debate on Thursday.
David Thompson, director of the corporate environmental program at Panasonic Corp., said consumer electronics companies struggle to comply with a "patchwork" of regulations from states, causing an enormous burden and expense. Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and New York are among the two dozen states with electronic waste laws.
In the wake of the recession, Panasonic and other consumer products companies are struggling to regain their economic foothold, and any new regulatory burdens would hinder growth and competitiveness, Thompson told lawmakers.
"We are struggling, like so many companies, trying to figure out what is the best way for us to remain in business," he said.
Setting up a system where companies and policymakers work together to create better programs would boost recycling efforts without costing a fortune, Thompson said, adding many companies already set recycling goals.
In 2007, Panasonic launched a national program setting up 1,800 locations to collect electronic waste. There are 20 locations in Massachusetts, Thompson said. The company has collected more than 80 million pounds of electronic waste nationwide, some of which is reused in products.
Nathan Trail, from the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents 2,000 consumer electronics companies, said many manufacturers already have recycling programs for their products. There are more than 150 collection locations in Massachusetts. Retailers also get involved with Best Buy and Staples stores collecting electronic goods, according to Trail.
Sen. Marc Pacheco, co-chair of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, argued if the global companies already comply with laws in other states and in the European Union, there was no reason they could not do it in Massachusetts.
"The EU has a policy they are up to 9 pounds per capita. Somehow you shy away from meeting those requirements in the United States," Pacheco said to Thompson. "Why should we here in Massachusetts settle for anything less than at least many of the others states in the United States are doing in terms of mandating an e-waste program?"
Thompson disagreed with the 9 pounds per capita requirement Pacheco cited for EU regulations, saying it includes other household "white goods," like washing machines. The legislation Massachusetts lawmakers are contemplating would require manufacturers to meet 6 pounds per capita for e-waste.
Regulations requiring manufacturers to have some responsibility for disposing of their products has failed to win approval in the Legislature for several years, according to Pacheco, who sponsored the bill that moved forward Tuesday.
Pacheco said committee members advanced the bill immediately following the hearing to give the rest of their colleagues plenty of time to pass legislation he called long overdue.