Nov 20 - Expansion of California E-waste Law Needed to Address Overseas Disposal Crisis

In the absence of action from Washington, and as the only state to have successfully curbed both the illegal disposal and export of the largest source of toxic electronics, California's leadership is again needed to advance a comprehensive solution to the e-waste disposal crisis both here and abroad.

Enacted 4 years ago, California's E-waste recycling law (SB 20, Sher) established an infrastructure and incentive system for the recovery, reuse and recycling of the largest category of toxic e-waste: televisions, computer monitors, laptop computers and other 'video display devices.' These devices accounted for nearly half of generated e-waste in California in 2003-226,000 tons.

As a result of California's E-waste Recycling Policy, it's estimated that half of covered devices will either be reused or recycled in California-this year the state is on track to safely and responsibly recycle more than 75,000 tons of covered devices with tens of thousands more devices refurbished for reuse.

More than just increasing recycling, California's E-waste policy is unique in the nation in that the statute explicitly prohibits the export of unprocessed e-waste to non-OECD countries (i.e. developing countries, including China). Some legal experts believe that State Governments may lack the legal authority to regulate exports. To address this contingency, California's policy also requires recyclers participating in the program to 'demonstrate' that they are properly managing material consistent with California law, and that they are not sending unprocessed materials to non-OECD countries. This 'demonstration' is a condition of recyclers receiving payment, and for the most part appears to be working to curb exports, but only for the devices covered by SB 20 (TV's, computer monitors, lap tops, and other Video Display devices).

Additionally, SB 20 requires manufactures of covered devices to phase down the use of toxic materials in devices, preventing the generation of toxic e-waste in the first place.

While this thoughtful and comprehensive California policy appears to be working for covered devices, the crisis continues to grow with the close to 300,000 tons of e-waste not covered by SB 20 that continues to be illegally disposed-despite a nearly two-year old landfill ban. And because the recycling of these devices remains unregulated, it's likely that much of this e-waste continues to be exported to the developing world in violation of international treaty.

Efforts to address this growing component of e-waste has been thwarted not by industry opposition, but by inattention and indecisiveness by Governor Schwarzenegger, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), and other state policy makers.

  • AB 48 (Saldaña) would have expanded the hazardous materials use restrictions to all consumer electronics, consistent with specific provisions tracked the European Union RoHS Directive enacted in July 2006. The measure passed the legislature, but was opposed by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and vetoed by the Governor.
  • AB 1535 (Huffman) would have expanded the Sher SB 20 law to include all computers. That measure was held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

California policy makers including the Governor, Legislature and DTSC--have an opportunity to continue the state's nationally recognized leadership and success in addressing the e-waste crisis by expanding both the hazardous waste reduction and recycling provisions of California law.

To find out more, and what you can do:

Check out CAW's e-waste page.