Get the Lead Out

On September 24, Governor Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 20, creating a fund for the recycling of computer monitors and televisions, which can contain lead and other toxic materials. Starting January 1, 2004, every computer monitor or television containing a cathode ray tube (CRT) will carry a $6 to $10 surcharge for the recycling fund.
Initially hailed as a “manufacturer responsibility” bill, the final legislation was a significant compromise for groups who’ve long argued that companies that produce toxic waste must be directly responsible for its safe disposal. In earlier versions, the bill mandated that manufacturers achieve CRT recycling rates of 50 percent by 2005 and 90 percent by 2010. In theory, it would have encouraged electronics makers to put less hazardous waste in their products and to build machines that could be recycled easily. By the time Davis signed it, SB 20 had been stripped of such provisions.
The surcharge, says Sheila Davis of the Clean Computer Campaign, “is not enough to cover the cost of recycling.” If the recycling fund is insufficient, state officials can raise it, but consumers will still pay the price. According to Davis, it costs about $15 to dismantle a computer into recyclable parts. CRTs, which are banned from landfills, contain three to four pounds of lead, fused between layers of glass in the screens. About six million obsolete CRTs are stockpiled in attics and storerooms in California homes, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB). Recycling figures for CRTs are not tracked; it’s estimated that only about one percent are recycled.
The same manufacturers who resist recycling legislation in California are actively supporting it in Japan and Europe. The group Clean Production Action cites a press release, signed by Sony, Hewlett Packard, Apple, and others, that praises European legislation requiring electronics manufacturers to guarantee electronic wastes will be managed. “This [legislation] is essential to avoid placing unjustified burdens on taxpayers and the consumer,” it states.
A spokesperson for Dell, which must adhere to stricter standards in several EU countries, says the company is “experimenting with different approaches in different parts of the world for recycling, based on government requirements, and customer expectations.”
SB20 also requires electronics manufacturers to report on the amounts of toxic materials included in their products, and sets some limits to the export of hazardous electronics waste. But even these gains are subject to future court challenges: SB20’s “sunset provision” makes the law moot if a trial court were to exempt out-of-state manufacturers from the surcharge. But Jessica Fiedor of Californians Against Waste says that under the new Schwarzenegger administration, it may be difficult to press for a tougher law. “We got this through just in time,” she says.

Comments are closed.