A new bill signed into law in Oregon is aimed at keeping even more electronic waste out of landfills and incinerators as compared to previous years. The law is an updated version of a previous law that went into effect more than 10 years ago. While politicians are happy to tout its benefits, it remains to be seen just how effective the law ends up being.
Expanding Electronic Device Recycling
Known as the Oregon E-Cycles Program, the original law dates to 2007. It requires manufacturers of certain types of electronics to establish a free and convenient means by which consumers can recycle some electronics. In updating the law, Oregon lawmakers did three things:
- Expand the types of electronic devices covered.
- Turn program administration over to the private sector.
- Require public-sector contractors to offer equal access across the state.
Government officials say that updating the law was designed to bring it in line with other initiatives in the state. Once fully in force, consumers and “other covered entities” will be able to recycle everything from old DVD players and game consoles to internet modems and routers.
Phones will still not be covered in Oregon under the recycling program. It is not clear why they have been excluded. It’s also not clear whether there are plans to eventually include them in statewide recycling.
The Private Sector Initiative
Prior to updating the law, Oregon handled the task of setting up collection points and administering the program. But with the new law, responsibility is turned over to what the state refers to as Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs). There are currently two PROs operating in Oregon, and manufacturers can choose one or the other.
By joining a PRO, electronics manufacturers will have access to a system whereby their customers can freely and easily recycle old electronics. Collection points will be established throughout the state. All consumers will have to do is locate the nearest collection point and drop off their old electronics. However, therein lies the rub.
Will consumers actually be willing to go to the trouble to recycle? They are always the weakest link in the recycling chain. If a collection facility is close enough and offers convenient operating hours, getting consumers to drop off their old electronics should not be a big deal. But if PROs make things too difficult, consumers are more likely to throw their old devices in the trash.
The Right Way to Go
Regardless of how one might feel about requiring manufacturers to offer free and easy recycling of their products, it is hard to argue against turning actual management of the program over to the private sector. That was the right way to go.
The private sector almost always does a better job recycling. Take recycling plastics. Tennessee’s Seraphim Plastics recycles tons of industrial scrap plastic every year. They operate in seven states, including Ohio and Arkansas. They succeed, and make money doing so, because their collection and recycling processes are simple and cost-effective. They require minimal labor as well.
Conversely, municipal plastic recycling has been a colossal failure since its inception. Local governments just don’t do things as efficiently and effectively as the private sector. One by one, those municipal programs have shut down.
At any rate, electronics manufacturers who sell products in Oregon must provide an easy and free way for their customers to recycle old electronics. With the implementation of the state’s new law, the number of electronics consumers can recycle has been significantly expanded. Time will tell if Oregon’s efforts to keep digital waste out of landfills does what it’s intended to do.