August 16, 2002

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Contacts: David Wood


Electronics take back programs must create market incentives rather than simply share responsibility

Madison, WI - The cooperative electronics collection program recently announced by Nxtcycle, Panasonic, Sharp, and Sony indicates that brand owners and manufacturers are feeling increasing pressure to take responsibility for management of discarded electronics, according to the Computer TakeBack Campaign. However, important questions about the program and its operation are unanswered and the real solution to the electronics waste problem requires more than notions of “shared responsibility.”
According to Nxtcycle’s company press release [off-site][pdf], the “Electronics Recycling Shared Responsibility” program -- a name for which the company apparently claims a proprietary Trade Mark -- will team up with three manufacturers to offer consumers in four states “one-time and on-going” options for managing used electronics. Manufacturers will underwrite a portion of the program costs, looking to consumers and municipalities to underwrite other aspects of the system.
“The Computer TakeBack Campaign believes that the most effective, long-term solutions to discarded consumer electronics require brand owners and manufacturers to bear the full costs for the life-cycle impacts of their products,” says David Wood, program director with GrassRoots Recycling Network and TakeBack Campaign organizing director. “Requiring manufacturers to internalize their full costs, including end of life management, creates a powerful incentive to reduce such costs by designing products that are less toxic, more reusable and easier to recycle,” continues Wood.
The goal of the Computer Take-Back Campaign is to protect the health and well being of electronics users, workers, and the communities where electronics are produced and discarded by requiring consumer electronics manufacturers and brand owners to take full responsibility for the life cycle of their products, through effective public policy requirements or enforceable agreements.
“Sure, consumers, retailers and maybe even local governments will have some role to play in the safe management of discarded electronics, but our experience to date is that ‘shared responsibility’ is industry code for ‘not us’,” continues Wood. “Pilot programs such as announced by Nxtcycle are a start but will never come close to handling the current volume of e-waste stockpiled in homes, garages and offices. More importantly, pay as you go collection programs will not sufficiently influence product design to eliminate hazards to human health or facilitate safe recycling.”
“Nxtcycle’s web site provides a ‘quality assurance’ that all electronics are ‘processed in America in an environmentally friendly manner,’ but without more information the recycling public does not know what ultimately happens to the products they drop-off,” continues Wood. “Nxtcycle’s Utah facility uses prison labor, which can distort the competitive market. We’d like to see Nxtcycle and its electronics partners provide detailed information about the ultimate disposition of collected materials and sign our pledge of true stewardship to guarantee materials are handled in an environmentally superior manner and are not shipped overseas.”


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