Tuesday, September 29, 2009


September 28, 2009
What E-Waste Regulations Mean to Your Business
By Ilya Leybovich

As production and use of electronic products increases, so do the regulations governing their disposal, making it vital for manufacturers and consumers to understand how to best discard electronic waste.

Electronic products have long played a prominent role in the consumer market, but the past two decades have seen substantial increases in the rate of manufacturing and consumption of electronic goods. With the frequent pace at which electronics are rendered obsolete by new models or advances in technology, a significant portion of these products eventually becomes electronic waste, or e-waste, that can harm the environment and incur fines or other penalties when disposed of incorrectly.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the United States consumer electronics industry grew from $137.3 billion to $178.6 billion between 2005 and 2008, with an average increase of roughly 9.2 percent per year. Since the recession hit, the industry is expected to contract by 7.7 percent through 2009, but this still leaves a market of $164.9 billion that is forecast to expand in 2010.

As the cost for common electronic goods has dropped, consumption has risen. A 2008 report, from CEA and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), found that the number of electronic products owned in an average U.S. household rose from 10 in 1990 to 25 in 2007. According to the CEA/PwC report, 98 percent of households own a television, 82 percent a DVD player, 74 percent a computer and 73 percent a cell phone.

When older electronics are replaced or become obsolete, many of them are discarded. Although it is difficult to track the precise rate of electronic waste accumulation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in 2007 alone the U.S. generated 2.25 million tons of televisions, cell phones and computer products no longer in use. Of these, roughly 18 percent were collected for recycling and 82 percent for disposal, mainly in landfills.

The EPA attributes the 18 percent of recycled e-waste in 2007 (up from 15 percent the previous year) to the introduction of mandatory recycling and collection programs in several states. (The full list of state-by-state statutes and regulations can be found HERE.)

Currently, there are 19 states and one municipality with e-waste disposal laws in place. Many of these regulations require manufacturers to pay for some or all of the collection, transport, recycling or disposal processes. Some states have established administrative programs to regulate e-waste activities and enforce policy violations.

In many cases, electronics manufacturers and distributors with output above a set number of electronic devices are required to pay a registration fee along with renewal fees every year to provide funds for local recycling or disposal efforts. These payments range from an initial fee of $10,000 for manufacturers producing more than 1,000 video displays a year in West Virginia, to an advance recycling fee of $6 to $10 charged at the point of sale for each video display unit in California.

According to the EPA's regulations and standards, facilities that generate more than 220 pounds of electronic waste per month must have their disposal methods regulated under federal hazardous materials guidelines, while businesses that dispose of less than 220 pounds per month are exempt from the hazardous materials restrictions.

Electronic circuit boards are also subject to certain exemptions from federal e-waste disposal rules. Whole unused circuits boards are unregulated, while whole used circuit boards are treated as scrap metal and do not fall under hazardous waste restrictions. Depending on their composition and whether they are containerized, shredded circuit boards may be exempt from solid waste categorization.

Concern over electronic waste has become a global issue due to the rapidly rising accumulation of e-waste and expanding regulatory efforts to manage it.

"The pollution and related health problems in countries where e-waste is dumped will increase massively as the amount of electronics used worldwide is growing exponentially and the number of countries used as dump sites will grow," CNN.com claims.

According to a report from Pike Research, the volume of electronic waste worldwide is expected to peak at 73 million metric tons by 2015, after which it will begin to decline as e-waste disposal initiatives increase in effectiveness.

In the meantime, working within federal or state guidelines to properly dispose of electronic waste, thus avoiding penalties and hazardous risks, is an important process for electronics producers and consumers alike.

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