Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Op-Ed: Pennsylvania Electronics Recycling Rules Not Easily Met

By David E. Vollero, Executive Director, York County Solid Waste Authority

On December 18, the York County Solid Waste Authority made the difficult decision to suspend its electronics recycling program due to a lack of recycling outlets for collected electronic devices.
This suspension also applies to municipal satellite programs previously conducted in the following municipalities: Carroll, Fairview, Hopewell, Penn, Shrewsbury, Warrington, Dover, Fawn, Lower Windsor and Windsor Townships, as well as Stewartstown and the City of York.
The Authority has collected scrap electronics from York County residents, free of charge, since 2002.  Between 2002 and 2015 our electronics recycling program grew from annual collection events at one site, to a combination of full time, weekly, bi-weekly and annual collections at 13 different collection points across the county.  
From 2002 through 2012 electronics recycling in Pennsylvania was voluntary and recycling of collected electronic devices was paid for by the Authority with funds derived from operations of the York County Resource Recovery Center and from the sale of collected electronic devices.
Commencing on Jan. 24, 2013, Act 108, the Pennsylvania law known as the “Covered Device Recycling Act” mandated the recycling of specific electronics that include televisions, desktop and laptop computers and computer peripherals.
Act 108 requires Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s) that sell electronic products in Pennsylvania to provide for the recycling of a substantial amount of electronic devices.  
However, the law also contains fundamental flaws that make recycling electronics in Pennsylvania challenging.
For example, the Act bans the disposal of certain electronic devices in Pennsylvania waste disposal facilities. This ban has contributed to a significant influx of electronic devices into the recycling market which, in turn, has contributed to a glut of those devices and a corresponding decline in the price paid for scrap electronics.
Because OEM recycling obligations are based on the weight of covered devices sold, and electronic devices are getting smaller, OEM obligations fall short of the amount of electronics that need to be recycled.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s implementation of the Act prohibits electronics recyclers from operating programs that are funded by both OEMs and user fees. The relative oversupply of scrap electronics and the state restrictions on program funding have made it prohibitively expensive for local governments and private vendors to conduct electronics recycling in Pennsylvania.
Coupled with the disposal ban, this leaves many orphaned devices that cannot be disposed of in Pennsylvania.
In 2015 York County recycled more than 3 million pounds of electronics. The recycling vendor who had serviced York County’s program for the past several years informed us in August that they could no longer service the program in a manner that would comply with state restrictions.
The Authority immediately began the process of securing a new vendor for 2016, and by September, reached agreement with a new vendor to service the program.
Unfortunately, that vendor informed us on December 18 that they were unable to secure adequate OEM support for our program and would not accept electronics from the Authority’s program.
At that point, with no recycling or disposal outlets available, the Authority had no choice but to suspend its electronics recycling program.
We are currently seeking an alternative solution to provide for electronics recycling in York County, and are advising residents and businesses to hold onto their electronic devices until we can determine an alternate course of action.
Retail outlets that accept certain electronics for recycling in York County either have OEM support or have made other arrangements to cover costs.
The illegal dumping of electronics at Best Buy’s parking lot, and the marked increase in the volume of material that is being delivered to them, illustrates the need for electronics recycling and showcases the shortcomings of Act 108.
Pennsylvania legislators are well aware the Act has shortcomings that undermine our ability to properly manage scrap electronics in York County.
Many other counties in Pennsylvania have also discontinued or suspended electronics recycling for the reasons described above.
The Authority has urged our legislators to act quickly to amend the Act and alleviate the current electronics recycling situation.
Possible improvements to Act 108 include setting a minimum price paid by OEMs for all collected devices that is sufficient to sustain recycling programs, lifting the disposal ban to reduce the oversupply of scrap electronics headed for recycling, and/or allow for the landfill disposal of just cathode ray tubes which have very limited recycling potential and are the material primarily responsible for the supply/demand imbalance.
We encourage residents to let their legislative representatives know this matter is important to York County.
For background on the recycling electronics law, visit DEP’s Electronics Recycling webpage.
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