TCE Fund, May 11, 2010 By TCE Fund
This report assesses the effectiveness of the first year of the Texas Computer TakeBack Program by analyzing all manufacturers’ collection reports and comparing overall Texas collections with the first-year results of other states with producer takeback recycling legislation for used electronics.
Among states with available collection and recycling data, Texas finished dead last in per capita collections. Among producers, only Dell recycled a substantial quantity in the first program year in Texas. Given the poor performance of most producers in Texas compared to other states, Lone Star lawmakers must decide whether they want current and future producer takeback programs to serve as mere windowdressing or actually serve the recycling needs of the people of this state.
Producer TakeBack—Recycling for this Century
Producer responsibility, also commonly known as “producer takeback,” is a waste and product management system in which manufacturers—not consumers or government—take on the bulk of the responsibility for the life cycle of their products, from the initial design phase through end-of-life disposition. Since 2005, thirty-two states have passed fifty producer responsibility laws covering seven categories of hazardous products. Due to their short usable life span, toxic nature and other challenges associated with responsible recycling, discarded electronics have been a main focus of state producer takeback laws. To date, twenty states plus New York City have passed takeback recycling legislation for used electronics, with nine more states introducing similar legislation in 2010. Texas passed a producer takeback recycling law for computer equipment in 2007, then passed a takeback bill for televisions in 2009, which Governor Rick Perry vetoed. Also in 2009, the Texas Legislature considered producer takeback recycling bills for thermostats and fluorescent lighting containing mercury.
The Texas Computer TakeBack Law was signed by the Governor on June 15, 2007 and implemented on September 1, 2008. Computer manufacturers doing business in Texas must now provide individuals and home businesses with recycling options for used desktops, laptops and monitors. Under the Computer TakeBack Law, recycling options must be free, “reasonably convenient” and “designed to meet the collection needs of consumers in this state.” However, the statute does not define these terms. According to the legislation, mail-back programs meet the convenience requirement.
Without Dell, the Texas TakeBack Program Fails in Practice
In 2009, computer manufacturers recovered a total of 15,247,207 pounds of used electronics for recycling and re-use through the Texas TakeBack Law, about 0.62 pounds per capita.
Manufacturer recovery plans consisted largely of one or both of two collection methods: mailback programs and single or multiple drop-off collection sites. Manufacturers that only provided a mail-back option—the mail-back “default”—almost invariably recycled less than manufacturers that implemented permanent drop-off locations.
|The “Dell Factor”
By any measure, the first year of the Texas TakeBack program would have proven a complete failure without the disproportionate share of the recovery and recycling load borne by Dell Computers. Dell recovered 12,923,787 pounds of used computer equipment—0.52 pounds per capita, 84.76% of the Texas total. All other manufacturers recovered 2,323,420 pounds—0.09 pounds per capita, only 15.24% of the total.
Dell partnered with Goodwill and Staples to provide Texans with free drop-off and recycling for all brands at any Goodwill location and Dell branded equipment at any Staples location throughout the state. The Dell Factor indicates convenience and publicity function as vital components in a successful takeback program.
Seven of the twenty states with producer takeback laws for used electronics have released collection data for their respective takeback programs. Unfortunately, among states reporting first year results, Texas has the lowest per capita collection rate.
In Minnesota’s first year, manufacturers were required to recycle an amount equal to 60% of their statewide sales from the previous year. Oregon, Washington and Rhode Island calculate each manufacturer’s annual recycling obligation based on its national market and return share. All three require manufacturers to provide access to convenient recycling services, with at least one drop-off collection point in every county and, in Oregon and Washington, every city with a population of 10,000 or greater. Maine combines producer responsibility and local government infrastructure in a hybrid public-private takeback system requiring municipalities to collect used electronics and transport them to consolidation points. The Virginia law is virtually identical to the Texas law. Correspondingly, Dell collected 84.83% of the Virginia total.
TakeBack Laws with Teeth Get Results
Producer takeback laws in other states are working well, demonstrating that laws with teeth get results. Manufacturers have proven their ability to meet the e-cycling needs of consumers in states across the country by reaching and exceeding recycling targets in Minnesota, Washington and Oregon. When a manufacturer collects over a million pounds in other states, but nothing or next-to-nothing in Texas, it becomes obvious that collection goals or recycling targets, convenience standards, landfill prohibition,
public education and outreach along with strong enforcement provisions—all absent in the Texas law—drive manufacturers to set up effective e-cycling programs.
Key Steps to Make TakeBack Work in Texas
Overall, the Texas electronics recycling law has been the least effective in the country in its first program year. However, the Dell-Goodwill program demonstrates that companies can provide truly convenient producer takeback recycling, but most will not unless legislation requires them to do so.
The Texas Law Needs Drivers
With very few exceptions, all of the major manufacturers already comply with the stronger requirements of e-cycling statutes in other states; adding similar provisions to the Texas law will bring it in line with the more successful programs and provide Texans with the same e-cycling opportunities presently afforded citizens of other states.
• Collection goals and recycling targets: Texas did not institute collection and recycling targets. Instituting concrete, well-defined collection goals based on a company’s market share or return share would help ensure these manufacturers make a stronger effort to implement effective recycling programs in order to meet their state recycling obligation.
• Convenience and access standards: Taking a cue from Dell’s singular success, Texas needs to replace the default mail-back option with convenience requirements that will meet Texans’ collection needs.
• Landfill prohibitions: The State of Texas still allows disposal of used electronics in landfills and incinerators. By contrast, four states already enacted e-waste disposal prohibitions along with or prior to passage of their e-cycling laws; six more have passed landfill bans that go into effect before 2012.
Texas Lags on Public Education and Outreach
Texas placed the mandate for public education on TCEQ, which did not implement a meaningful public outreach campaign to educate consumers or local government officials about takeback recycling programs. States that required manufacturers to advertise takeback recycling options or states that branded their takeback programs for publicity and promotional purposes achieved the highest collection results.
• Texas law does not fund public education efforts statewide or locally: The Texas Computer TakeBack Law requires TCEQ to educate consumers about e-cycling options; however, this is an unfunded mandate without appropriations or fee-based funding structure. Texas is one of only five states that did not include a manufacturer registration fee in its takeback legislation (although the TV TakeBack bill passed near-unanimously in 2009 did include a manufacturer registration fee). This fee should be directed toward producing and disseminating public education materials.
• Texas law does not include provisions for public education efforts by electronics retailers: States with successful e-cycling programs require electronics retailers to provide information at the point of sale about how and where to recycle covered products.
• Local governments are not engaged in public education and outreach*: Local government entities often function as the “recycler of first resort” for their residents (particularly for information about hard-to-recycle products like electronics). The Legislature and TCEQ need to equip local governments with the tools to spread the word about e-cycling.
The Texas Law Lacks Enforcement Mechanisms
The retail sales prohibition has been effective at ensuring that manufacturers file recovery plans with TCEQ; however, filing a recovery plan is not the same as implementing an effective recovery program. More than half of registered manufacturers collected nothing in program year one. TCEQ may take enforcement action only in cases when a manufacturer fails to label its branded products, or when manufacturers or retailers sell branded products that are not part of a compliant recovery plan.
• State environmental agency has no authority to approve or reject recovery plans: Legislation must grant TCEQ authority to approve or reject a recovery plan and remove previously listed plans that fail to meet the basic criteria outlined in the legislation.
• No defined convenience criteria: The TakeBack Law must define “reasonably convenient.”
• No metrics for measuring the efficacy of a manufacturer recovery plan: The TakeBack Law must provide a means by which the state can measure whether or not a manufacturer collects adequate quantities of used electronics over the course of a year.
* A 2009 TCE Fund survey of two hundred Texas cities showed that less than one in five mentioned the TakeBack Law on its municipal website and less than one in nine city officials contacted via phone referred callers to the TakeBack Law.