Texas Campaign for the Environment: News
MEDIA RELEASE: February 23, 2011
Making TakeBack Work Better in Texas: Second year results of the Computer TakeBack Law and how Texas can do better
On September 1, 2008 the Texas Computer TakeBack Law went into effect. The law requires computer manufacturers doing business in Texas to provide individuals and home businesses with recycling options for used desktops, laptops, and monitors. Under the state e-waste law, recycling options must be free, “reasonably convenient” and “designed to meet the collection needs of consumers in this state.”
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that 3,190,000 tons of consumer electronics entered the waste stream in the U.S.; of this only 600,000 tons were recycled (1). The continued growth of electronic waste (e-waste) combined with the fact that electronics contain an assortment of toxic materials such as lead, mercury, and cadmium (2) makes the collection and recycling of e-waste a necessity.
In addition, to the toxins found in electronics many also contain rare earth minerals such as Gadolinium (3). It is estimated that 97% of these minerals are controlled by China—which, since 2007, has begun limiting their export (4). This attempt by China to stockpile their resources combined with their rarity has caused prices to skyrocket. This further makes electronics recycling (e-cycling) a necessity.
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The good news is that the e-waste collection amounts reported by the computer manufacturers in 2010 were 60% higher than in 2009. However, four of the 78 companies selling computers in Texas collected 92% of the total showing that the law has not created a level playing field. Also, second year results show that Texas and the other states with similar laws continues to measure-up poorly to other states. This is attributed to the Texas Law’s lack of three key provisions: 1) collection goals and recycling targets, 2) convenience and access standards, and 3) a disposal prohibition.
Manufacturers have proven their ability to meet the e-cycling needs of consumers in states across the country by reaching and exceeding recycling targets, especially in Minnesota, Washington and Oregon. When a manufacturer able to collect such large amounts of e-waste in other states, but considerably less in Texas, it becomes obvious that collection goals (including expanding covered electronics such as televisions), convenience standards, disposal prohibition, public education and outreach along with strong enforcement provisions result in manufacturers setting up more effective e-cycling programs. Texas and the states with laws like it—Oklahoma, Virginia and Michigan—all have lower per capita collections.
In Texas, manufacturer recovery plans consist largely of mail-back programs and/or single or multiple drop-off collection sites. Manufacturers that only provided a mail-back option, the mail-back model, almost invariably recycled less than manufacturers that implemented permanent drop-off locations. Texas, Virginia, Michigan and Oklahoma all have similar mail-back model laws so it is no surprise that these three have performed the worst even when compared to other states first year programs.
Additionally, 92% of the 24,370,894 pounds of electronic waste collected in 2010 was collected by only four manufacturers: Dell, Samsung, Altex Electronics, a small San Antonio, Texas based company, and Sony. The remaining 8% was collected by 38 manufacturers while 36 manufacturers collected zero pounds. It is obvious that the mail-back model creates a vastly disproportionate system that allows many companies to be free riders and not pull their own weight. In particular, the leading seller of computers in the U.S., HP saw their Texas collections drop 93% compared to 2009, which accounted for a paltry 0.19% of manufacturer collections statewide. HP staff told a TCE Fund staff person that they were having a hard time convincing responsible recyclers to set up facilities in Texas when they were focused on states that had strong requirements for performance in their takeback laws.
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 residents of other states.
Televisions must be covered by a takeback recycling law: It is estimated that over 302 million Americans own at least one television with the average household owning 2.7 televisions and nearly 25% owning 4 or more televisions (5). Because televisions are even more ubiquitous than computers preventing them from entering U.S. landfills should be a necessary part of the Texas Takeback Program. Currently, 19 states have free producer takeback for televisions.
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: Texas needs to replace what has become the default mail-back model for many major companies with convenience requirements that will truly meet Texans’ collection needs.
Disposal prohibitions: The State of Texas allows consumers to dispose of used electronics in landfills and incinerators. By contrast, 19 states already have passed e-waste disposal prohibitions.
Texas placed the mandate for public education on the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which has not yet implemented a meaningful public outreach campaign to educate consumers or local government officials about takeback recycling programs. The states with the highest collection results had strong public education efforts and/or enforceable goals that placed responsibilities on manufacturers to get the word out to obtain their share.
Texas should require a manufacturer registration fee: Texas is one of only four states that did not include a manufacturer registration fee in its takeback legislation. This fee should be directed toward producing and disseminating public education materials.
Texas should require electronics retailers to provide information about e-cycling to consumers: 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. The Texas Retailers Association accepted this provision in the 2009 TV TakeBack Bill.
The takeback program should involve local governments to help them to educate the public about e-cycling (6): Currently local governments are not engaged in public education. Local government entities often function as the “recycler of first resort” for their residents particularly for information about hard-to-recycle products like electronics. Therefore, it is important that they are active in educating the public.
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. Similar to program year one, more than half of registered manufacturers collected nothing in program year two. 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.
Legislation should grant TCEQ authority to reject a recovery plan or remove non-compliant manufacturers from the state list: Currently, the state environmental agency does not have explicit authority to reject recovery plans or to remove previously listed plans that fail to meet the basic criteria outlined in the legislation.
1) United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2009 Facts and Figures”. http://www.epa.gov. 72-73. Accessed: 01.31.11
2) Gable et al. (2001) “Computers, E-Waste, and Product Stewardship: Is California Ready for the Challenge? A Menu of Policy Options for Computer Extended Product Responsibility”. Global Futures Foundation. http://www.globalfutures.org. 3. Accessed: 01.22.11
3) Scandium, Yttrium, Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Promethium, Samarium, Europium, Gadolinium, Terbium, Dysprosium, Holmium, Erbium, Thulium, Ytterbium, and Lutetium
4) Ford, Peter (20 Oct. 2010). “China denies any rare earth mineral export embargo”. The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com.
5) DuBravac, Shawn G. (2009). “Beyond HD: The Future of TV”. 5 Technology Trends to Watch. Consumer Electronics Association. http://www.ce.org. Accessed: 02.21.11.
6) A 2010 TCE Fund survey of 194 Texas cities showed that less than one in four mentioned the TakeBack Law on its municipal website and only one in 25 city officials contacted via phone referred callers to the TakeBack Law.