MetroWest Daily News: Bill on Beacon Hill would shift cost burden of recycling electronics

by Michael Morton
5/14/09

Picking up the environmental mantle of his predecessor, state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, will join committee colleagues today for a hearing on a bill he has sponsored to ensure electronics get recycled without burdening municipalities.

Instead, manufacturers of computers, printers, televisions and other electronics will be required to pay Massachusetts cities and towns to collect and store discarded items until the firms can ship them to a certified recycler.

Doing so will keep more than 8 million pounds of electronics out of landfills and incinerators, and their chemicals out of waterways, said Eldridge, vice chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

“We’re not doing a good job making sure these things are not hurting people’s health,” he said. The freshman senator also said he has picked up environmental causes championed by his predecessor, Pamela Resor. Eldridge’s legislation is co-sponsored by state Rep. Frank Israel Smizik, D-Brookline.

The state already bans disposal of metal, certain types of plastic, products containing mercury, and the cathode ray tubes found in older computer monitors and TVs.

Greg Cooper, deputy director of consumer programs at the Department of Environmental Protection, said other electronic parts frequently get recycled, including through programs established by manufacturers, but can also end up in landfills or incinerators.

Across the state, roughly two-thirds of cities and towns run programs to collect electronic waste, typically charging residents a fee for drop-offs and contracting with companies to recycle the items or haul them away.

Other towns, such as Hudson and Southborough, hold annual collection days, Eldridge’s staff said.

In Hopkinton, Selectman Matt Zettek said the town had been left footing the bill for illegally discarded electronics. He called for a comprehensive, statewide system.

“It’s sort of frustrating,” he said. “You have 351 communities and each one has to deal with it on its own.”

To discourage residents from illegal dumping, Eldridge’s bill would end service fees and expand drop-off opportunities. It would also end municipalities’ financial involvement in collecting old electronics, placing the responsibility instead with manufacturers.

Eldridge’s staff said the bill will strengthen the state’s recycling industry, encourage environmental considerations in product design and build on existing recycling programs offered by some computer companies and retailers.

A spokesman for the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, a manufacturing trade group, could not be reached for comment. Asked if this bill would drive up prices for consumers, Eldrige said manufacturers were still operating in a competitive environment.

“I think the marketplace takes care of that.”