The US Congress is considering how to make sure that that "e-waste" is recycled rather than thrown in the garbage.
Representatives of manufacturers, consumers, and recyclers are advising Congress on legislation that would create a national standard for disposal of e-waste. Earlier this year, a group of congressional representatives formed the E-Waste Working Group to target the growing problem.
"It's tough to figure out a plan that would work for all parties," says a spokesperson for Representative Louise Slaughter, who is a member of the group.
Up-front payment considered
An option that Slaughter endorses would call for a front-end user fee to be added to the price of electronic devices, to pay for their proper disposal. This advance-recycling-fee idea is similar to a state law in effect in California that requires consumers to pay money up front to aid in the disposal of electronics.
"We feel that [an advance recycling fee] is the best way to ensure consistency for consumers, the government, and manufacturing," says Kristi Taylor of the Consumer Electronics Association, a group that represents manufacturers and sellers of electronics.
Take-back model endorsed by some
Some corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard, say that a more efficient business model is to allow consumers to take old products back to the manufacturer.
"Our experience suggests that there's a better likelihood of keeping costs low in a producer-run system than [there is] adding taxes and funding government programs," says David Isaacs of HP. "We are advocating a system that has some flexibility built into it so [that] people who believe they can [recycle] faster, cheaper, and with greater innovation can do so."
Congress to recycle ewn e-waste
Before Congress acts on the issue, it plans to clean up its own e-mess. Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA) last month proposed a bill aimed at coordinating efforts for both houses of Congress to standardise the way they dispose of electronics.
"Each year Americans dispose of 2 million tons of electronics, which contain harmful chemicals such as lead and mercury," Thompson said in a release. "Before we can enact a national plan, Congress needs its own plan to properly dispose of its own e-waste. This is an opportunity for Congress to lead by example."
Both Thompson's bill and a proposal to cut e-waste are expected to be taken up by the House sometime early next year.