E-Waste Laws and Regulations

The U.S. and other countries are tackling the growing volume of e-waste through laws, regulations, and treaties.

California E-Waste Laws and Regulations

That state of California has several laws related to the collection, handling, recycling, and disposing of e-waste.

Universal Waste Rule

The Universal Waste Rule is intended to ensure certain hazardous wastes are managed safely and not disposed of in the trash. Universal wastes include TVs, computers, computer monitors, cell phones, VCRs, and portable DVD players, as well as batteries, electric lamps, and mercury-containing equipment.

California Electronic Waste Recycling Act

The California Electronic Waste Recycling Act requires retailers to collect a recycling fee from the buyer at the time of purchase of a video display device containing a screen greater than 4 inches, measured diagonally, such as computer monitors, laptops, and TVs with CRT, LCD, or plasma displays. Fees are deposited in an account managed by the Board of Equalization and paid out to recyclers upon approval of a payment claim. The act also regulates exporting of CRT materials or electronic devices.

Cell Phone and Battery Take Back Laws

Cell phone and battery take-back laws require retailers to take back cell phones and rechargeable batteries for reuse, recycling, or proper disposal.

State E-Waste Laws and Regulations

To date, 25 states have passed some type of e-waste related legislation. State laws vary and may include landfill or incineration bans, advanced recycling fees (consumers pay a recycling fee up front), and producer responsibility or take-back programs.

  • U.S. E-Waste Laws Map - Delta Institute2003: California
  • 2004: Maine
  • 2005: Maryland
  • 2006: Washington
  • 2007: Connecticut, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas
  • 2008: Hawaii, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia
  • 2009: Indiana, Wisconsin
  • 2010: New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont
  • 2011: Utah

U.S. Federal E-Waste Laws and Regulations

CRT Computer Monitor Thrown Away in Stream - Photo: EndlisnisAlthough the United States does not currently have any federal laws specific to e-waste, there are laws and regulations for handling and disposing of hazardous waste. Some electronics test “hazardous” under Federal law and are subject to special handling under Federal law such as CRT monitors, color CRT TV tubes, cell phones, and other hand-held devices.

Bill H.R.2284 “Responsible Electronics Recycling Act” was introduced during the 112th Congress in 2011 but not passed.

International E-Waste Laws and Treaties

European Union E-Waste Directives

The European Union adopted the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. These laws mandate recovery and recycling of e-waste and restrict the hazardous material content of new electronic equipment made by European manufacturers.

Basel Convention International Treaty

During the 1970s and 1980s, environmental regulations in industrialized countries were on the rise as were costs for disposing of hazardous waste. Some companies shipped their hazardous waste overseas where it was dumped, spilled, or improperly handled. This caused severe health problems and even deaths, poisoned the environment, and led to a public outcry to stop these practices.

  • Regulation of transboundary movement of hazardous and other wastes which includes a “Prior Informed Consent” procedure.
  • The requirement that hazardous and other wastes be managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.

The Partnership for Action on Computing Equipment (PACE) was formed in 2008 to focus specifically on computer-related e-waste.

The U.S. signed the Basel convention but never ratified it.

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Bags — Paper vs. Plastic: Reuse, Recycle, Compost, or Toss?

Grocery shopping is probably when most people amass the largest number of bags. What do people do with the bags after the groceries are unloaded and put away?

  • Reuse
  • Recycle
  • Compost
  • Toss

Reuse

Enter “ways to reuse paper bags” or “ways to reuse plastic bags” into the search engine of your web browser and you will be bombarded with ideas. My non-scientific survey Black and White Cat Sleepingindicates that the top 3 reuses are:

  1. Reuse as a trash can liner
  2. Reuse to pick up pet waste or line litter boxes
  3. Reuse as a shopping bag

The waterproof attribute of plastic bags makes them popular for reuses such as keeping things dry in the rain or separating wet bathing suits from dry clothes. Some plastic bags tear easily so good intentions to reuse may not be realized.

Paper bags seem popular for storing other stuff, like newspapers for recycling or even plastic bags. They are also useful for covering textbooks or packages for shipping. If a paper bag gets wet on the bottom, it’s all over, sometimes literally.

Recycle

According to the U.S. EPA, 49.5% of paper bags/sacks and 9.4% of plastic bags/sacks/wraps were recycled in 2009. Grocery shopping bags are included somewhere in those figures. It’s not an “apples to apples” comparison, but it does illustrate that paper bags are recycled over 5 times more than plastic bags.

Recycling can be tricky and is not without environmental issues. Also just because you put something in the recycle bin does not mean it will actually be recycled.

  • Power PlantAlthough paper is recyclable, the process requires a lot of resources and energy (more than plastic). According to the paper industry, more and more “new” paper bags are being made from recycled paper stock.
  • Plastic bags are recyclable however they can be a challenge for recycling equipment to handle and may clog machinery. Recycled plastic bags cannot be made into more plastic bags and are “down-cycled” into items like textiles and building materials. Although the industry reports prices are increasing, recycling plastic bags is not necessarily profitable. Given the difficulty of recycling and questionable profit picture, some recyclers do not recycle the plastic bags they receive and throw them away.

Compost

  • Kraft-type paper bags are compostable. For best results, tear into shreds and moisten before putting them in the compost bin.
  • Plastic bags are not compostable. Plastic bags made of bioplastics are compostable but they have not made their way to the grocery checkout stand.

Toss

Trash tossed in landfills requires oxygen and moisture in order to decompose, and even in the best conditions, plastic does not biodegrade. Many U.S. landfills do not have “ideal” conditions for trash to decompose. You’ve probably seen an article or picture of something that goes like this “scientist pulls a newspaper from 1960 out of a landfill and it is still perfectly readable.”

  • Paper bags will decompose in nature, more quickly when exposed to moisture.
  • Plastic bags do not decompose and eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces.
  • Due to their light weight, plastic bags may fly out of waste receptacles and landfills and cause unintentional litter.

Egrets in a Landfill

Try This

On any given day, count how many paper and plastic bags you see flying down the road, caught on fences and bushes, blocking gutters, etc.

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