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What are the issues?

Used electronic products—e.g., televisions, computers, laptops, and similar devices—are the fastest growing waste problem due to their quantity, rapid obsolescence, and toxicity. More than 3.4 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2011, and just 850,000 tons—29 percent—was recycled. Electronic waste contains toxic substances, including lead, mercury, cadmium, lithium, brominated flame retardants, and phosphorous coatings, which can be released upon disposal, threatening human health and the environment. 

State and local governments have neither the existing recycling infrastructure, nor the funding to properly manage electronics without the support of industry. In particular, as new flat panel screens have replaced cathode ray tube (CRT) displays, CRT recycling markets—while they still exist—have declined in value. This has resulted in a greater cost for recyclers and local governments, as well as the stockpiling of CRTs by some recyclers around the country. Inconsistencies in worker safety and environmental protection also mean potential liability concerns for those sending electronics to recycling facilities – especially if these facilities are located in developing countries. 


Twenty three states have passed extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws requiring manufacturers to establish collection and recycling programs for their products. California has taken a different approach, creating a state-run program funded by a recycling fee collected at the time of sale. Utah passed a law requiring companies to report on their recycling activities.



What is PSI doing to Help?

PSI has been at the forefront of electronics product stewardship since initiating the discussion the U.S. nearly 15 years ago. Here are some important highlights, starting with the most recent, first: 


Today, PSI continues to actively support electronics legislation and help state members and their stakeholders identify potential improvements to existing laws. As the rising costs of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) management and CRT stockpiling have put a strain on state electronics recycling programs, PSI is collaborating with governments, recyclers, and manufacturers to resolve this issue. In fact, we are currently working with the New York Product Stewardship Council (NYPSC) to facilitate a series of stakeholder dialogues to help identify and address these and other challenges affecting the implementation of New York's e-scrap law.


PSI released a report assessing the effectiveness of New York State’s EPR law, one of the most recent and advanced in the U.S. PSI is also working in rural areas to increase the use of voluntary product stewardship programs through collaborative local outreach and education programs.


PSI released a review of the lessons learned from existing electronics programs. We continue to update this document as new laws are passed and new data is available.


PSI was involved in an effort on the part of the Congressional House Energy and Environment Committee to develop federal electronics product stewardship legislation. Participants included electronics manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, government agencies, and environmental groups. In March 2008, PSI submitted comments on a Federal E-Recycling Concept Proposal developed by a bi-partisan Congressional E-Waste Working Group. 


PSI worked with Staples, Inc. to design, implement, and evaluate a retail electronics take-back pilot, which grew into Staples’ nationwide electronics take-back program in 2008. In 2014, Staples expanded the program yet again by creating a national business-to-business computer take-back initiative. Staples Vice President of Environmental Affairs, in an August 2014 email to PSI, said: "I am so very grateful to you all for the great work that was done collectively back then, which enabled a national e-Stewards Certified/R2 become a reality...."


PSI worked to advance environmentally preferable procurement policies for governments and published “Purchasing Environmentally Preferable Computers: A Guide for Government Procurement Officials.”


In December 2000, PSI held the country’s first national Product Stewardship Forum and from this government forum grew the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI), which became the country’s first national discussion among electronics manufacturers, state and local government agencies, recyclers, and non-governmental organizations. Although the NEPSI dialogue did not result in a national agreement, it was a significant turning point and became the first dialogue in which industry consciously committed to take a product stewardship approach.


To view existing electronics laws in the U.S., visit our State EPR Laws page. To view pending and active electronics legislation in the U.S.privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partnerslogin here.


For more information, please contact Kristin Aldred Cheek at (617) 236-8293.