Electronics
Electronics

The Problem

Electronics waste (“e-waste”) is one of the fastest-growing waste problems. Each year, U.S. residents discard more than 3 million tons of electronics, including televisions, computers, printers, cellphones, tablets, and other devices.

Although the estimated value of recoverable e-waste materials exceeds $65 billion (55 billion euros) annually, only about 20% of e-waste is recycled globally. The majority is combusted or landfilled, even though electronic devices contain toxic substances (including lead, mercury, cadmium, lithium, brominated flame retardants, and phosphorous coatings) that can escape into the environment upon disposal.

To make matters worse, the rise of flat screens has left the older, lead-containing cathode ray tube (CRT) displays with little value in recycling markets. Some reclamation companies have been caught illegally exporting e-waste to areas of the world that lack environmental and worker safety protections, leading to serious risk of harm and enormous liabilities.

The Solution

Environmentally sound electronics recycling programs create jobs, recover scarce resources like precious metals, ensure that hazardous materials are handled safely, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing new devices. But to be effective, electronics recycling programs must have convenient drop-off options for consumers and concerted public outreach to promote them -- all of which require sustained funding.

PSI advocates for well-designed extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws that require electronics producers to sustainably finance and manage electronics recycling programs. EPR programs make it easy for consumers to recycle unwanted electronics and relieve much of local governments’ financial burden. EPR programs also create a level playing field that shares responsibility fairly among producers.

To date, 24 states have passed EPR laws for electronics. Unfortunately, some of these laws were propelled by electronics producers to serve their own interests. As a result, producer funding for e-waste recycling in some states has fallen far short of the need. PSI monitors the lessons learned from existing programs to help these states strengthen their laws and empower other states to pass well-crafted legislation.

To hasten new purchases, electronics producers design their products to become outdated quickly and prevent access to repair information. Electronics companies internalize the profits, while municipalities — and the taxpayers they serve — bear the cost of managing the waste.

PSI supports the passage of Right to Repair legislation. This year, we signed on to a group letter soliciting co-sponsors for a Right to Repair bill filed in Massachusetts.

Right to Repair laws complement EPR systems by requiring electronics producers to make available the knowledge and tools needed to repair and refurbish their devices.

How We’re Leading the Way

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PSI empowers governments to pass strong new EPR laws. We have created a comprehensive model for effective electronics EPR legislation that incorporates national best practices for convenience standards, recycling targets, and about 20 other elements.

PSI helps our state members and their stakeholders improve existing laws. We provided technical expertise and lobbying assistance to the Illinois Product Stewardship Council to amend the state’s electronics EPR law. The improved law has created a clearinghouse to coordinate different producers’ programs and relieve state and local governments of management responsibilities.

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PSI evaluates existing electronics EPR programs. We worked with the New York Product Stewardship Council to facilitate a series of stakeholder dialogues that identified challenges affecting New York's electronics EPR law. Together, we submitted recommendations for program improvement that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is considering as it drafts new regulations for the law.

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PSI works with electronics producers to create voluntary recycling programs where EPR laws are not yet in place. PSI worked with Staples, Inc. to design, implement, and evaluate the nation's first retail electronics take-back pilot, which grew into Staples’ nationwide electronics take-back program and eventually a national business-to-business computer take-back initiative.

How You Can Help

Contact PSI for legislative assistance to improve an existing electronics EPR program or to develop support for a new EPR bill.

Buy electronic devices with high third-party ratings for reparability, and recycle your devices when they are no longer useful.

Contact your state legislative representatives to voice your support for EPR and Right to Repair legislation.

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