05 Oct Bill would ban computers from landfills
Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin residents would lose their ability to send old computers and other household electronics to landfills in the state under legislation proposed by state Sen. Mark Miller of Monona.
Miller on Tuesday said he would introduce legislation similar to that he proposed in February, 2004, but with some changes to the original proposal. He expects broad legislative support for the new bill, which calls on producers to assume responsibility for safe disposal of electronics.
Current Wisconsin law allows the landfill disposal of personal electronic equipmement but not such disposal of business equipment.
Miller’s bill would ban all disposal one year after his law would be enacted. He anticipated turning in his proposal on Wednesday, after which it would follow the legislative committee process.
“Like many Wisconsin residents, I have an obsolute computer in my basement, and an old printer,” Miller said. “There is little opportunity to dispose of those responsibly. We know these products contain toxic materials that can threaten human health if landfilled.”
When opportunities do arise for residents to recycle old computers, they have increasingly taken advantage of them, noted Steve Brachman, a solid and hazardous waste specialize with the University of Wisconsin Extension in Milwaukee.
“There’s been quite a growth of interest in recycling,” said Brachman. “When people get a chance to recycle old equipment, they do so.”
Brachman added that Wisconsin is “in pretty good shape” in the computer recycling arena, but that some of the infrastructure to support more widespread recycling is not in place.
A “trigger mechanism” such as Miller’s proposed landfilling ban is often what it takes to push the market to develop the needed infrastructure, Brachman said.
Miller said the landfilling ban “would create additional markets and jobs for new electronic recycling enterprises by adding consumer electronics to the landfill ban.”
After seven years, the bill would ban the sale of certain electronic equipment containing toxins such as lead, mercury, cadmium and others.
Miller called such elements “highly toxic and pose enormous environmental and public health threats if not properly managed at the end of their useful lives,” he said. “Currently, taxpayers and local governments largely fund the management of this problem.”
Miller’s bill would transfer that responsibility to producers of the equipment. “This has the advantage that it does not create a new government program requiring new taxes. The cost of the program is born by the producers and consumers of these products. The Department of Natural Resources would assure that the proposed plans are sufficient.”
While old computers and computer monitors have been the main focus of recycling efforts, Brachman said the advent of high-definition televisions will create new challenges as people start to get rid of old-technology TVs. “We’re going to have an even bigger problem,” he said.
Earlier attempts to develop a federal plan to handle old electronic equipment were unsuccessful, despite support from producers such as Dell and HP. But Maine recently adopted a ban with legislation similar to what Wisconsin’s Miller is proposing. Maine’s law becomes effective in January, and its effects will be widely followed, said Neil Peters-Michaud, owner and CEO of Cascade Asset Management, a computer recycling business in Madison.
But “it will be difficult to make this work on a state-by-state basis,” Peters-Michaud said. “A national program would create greater efficiencies.”
Peters-Michaud noted that European nations already have transferred disposal responsibility to producers.
While Peters-Michaud’s company and others like his primarily handle commercial electronics, he said the business and the electronics recycling industry could easily handle the addition units a landfilling ban would move to the recycling market.
Cascade Asset Management recently built a 32,000-square-foot facility on five acres of land, with that acreage giving the company the ability to expand the building to 100,000 square feet, said Peters-Michaud, who noted the company will host an open house in November.
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