June 11, 2003

See background info

For more information, contact:
David Wood, 608-232-1830
Suellen Mele, 206-441-1790
Sarah Westervelt, 206-652-5555

Seattle to Host Crucial Meeting to Determine
Whether Industry Will Take Responsibility for
Toxic Electronic Waste

Seattle, WA - The National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI) will be meeting in downtown Seattle this Thursday and Friday in an effort to hammer out the basics for an agreement to solve the growing electronic waste or e-waste crisis now facing the United States.

"So far the electronics industry has refused to offer US consumers the same degree of product stewardship that they have already agreed to in Europe," said David Wood of the GrassRoots Recycling Network and the national Computer TakeBack Campaign. "In Europe where there are strong producer responsibility laws, a Sony or Dell has to take back a computer or electronic product free of charge and ensure that it is recycled in a sustainable way. Here the very same companies pass the toxic buck onto taxpayers or even worse to unprotected Asian workers."

NEPSI is a multi-stakeholder negotiation drawing together local, state, and national government officials, computer and consumer electronics manufacturers, and environmental organizations. The goal of NEPSI is to develop a national system, including a viable financing mechanism, "to maximize the collection, reuse and recycling of used electronics, while considering appropriate incentives to design products that facilitate source reduction, reuse and recycling; reduce toxicity; and increase recycled content."

For about a year and a half, the industry was pushing to set up a system where electronics consumers would have to pay for the recycling of the equipment at end-of-life. But many states and environmentalists claimed that such a system discourages recycling and moreover, compared with a mechanism where the disposal/recycling costs are incorporated into the cost of doing business, removes incentives to reduce end-of-life costs through "green design." Now, after greater global alarm about the scope of the e-waste crisis and with the adoption of European, Japanese, and imminent adoption of Canadian legislation to enforce product stewardship, manufacturers are reluctantly moving toward taking more responsibility for internalizing end-of-life costs.

The NEPSI negotiation was meant to conclude after one year. Now, after more than two years of debate, no agreement has been reached and the process is at a crucial juncture. Marianne Horinko, EPA Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response, in a speech to the Electronics Industries Council on May 6, 2003, said, "EPA cannot afford to fund this process much longer without substantial forward progress. In fact, if NEPSI can't reach some kind of result, it shouldn't continue. I urge you to help this process along by agreeing on one or two financing options that you can live with." It is expected that the final result of any NEPSI agreement would be introduced as national legislation.

E-waste is the fastest growing waste problem in the United States today, made more serious by the fact that electronic waste is known to be toxic and causes long-term contamination when disposed in landfills. Equally alarming is the fact that currently much of our electronic waste collected for recycling is exported, dumped and recycled in squalid and dangerous conditions in countries like China as revealed last year when Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN) together with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released a globally publicized report and film entitled "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia."

There is no guarantee that the NEPSI process will reach an agreement or that any agreement would provide incentives for greener products while banning landfill dumping or the export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries. For this reason, many state legislatures are now moving to fill the void. Some form of e-waste legislation has been introduced or prepared in 23 states, with many state bills containing strong manufacturer responsibility provisions similar to what is now the law in Europe and Japan. Significantly, California, which historically has led the nation in numerous policy reforms, has introduced a rigorous electronics product stewardship bill that has widespread bi-partisan support. The bill has already passed the California Senate.

In Washington state, similar legislation was introduced in Olympia earlier this year and will be taken up again in the 2004 session. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Cooper (D-Edmonds) would ban landfilling and incineration of e-waste, discourage export, and phase-out toxics while making manufacturers bear end-of-life financial responsibility for their products. It has been hailed by environmental groups as a winner for both consumers and manufacturers.

"Such a package will defuse a growing toxic waste time bomb by finally giving consumers a convenient way to recycle their computers and TVs," said Suellen Mele of the Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation. "At the same time, it would create market-based incentives to ensure that our electronics industry becomes steadily greener and cleaner -- and it would do all of this without increasing taxes one penny."

"With state and local governments facing severe budget crises, the best common-sense approach to the problem without raising taxes or disposal rates is through 'producer responsibility'," said Sarah Westervelt of the Basel Action Network. "We can only hope that NEPSI takes bold, and not baby steps in this regard, but if not, we are confident the states will do the job."

For more information contact member organizations of the National Computer TakeBack Campaign:
David Wood
GrassRoots Recycling Network
Suellen Mele
Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation
Sarah Westervelt
Basel Action Network

For more information on the NEPSI process, below are some key NEPSI delegates:

Ted Smith,
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition,
408-242-6707 cell
Sego Jackson,
Principal Planner for Snohomish County Solid Waste,
David Stitzhal
Northwest Product Stewardship Council
Scott Cassell
Product Stewardship Institute
Un of MA-Lowell


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