Recyclers say e-waste law won't mean profit

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

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STATEWIDE Oregon's new electronic waste law has recyclers bracing for a surge in e-waste this year. But the recession and a plunge in commodity prices could turn the law's first year into a bitter pill for the state's recycling industry.

State legislators unanimously passed a bill in 2007 that requires electronic manufacturers that do business in the state to pay into a state-administered program, or participate in a manufacturer-created program, that reimburses collectors and recyclers of toxic e-waste such as televisions and computer monitors. The law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, prohibits recyclers from participating in the program to charge customers disposal fees for up to seven items.

"[The law is] definitely going to increase volume," says Andy Sloop, general manager of Portland-based Total Reclaim, an e-waste collector and processor. Free Geek in Portland, a nonprofit that collects and refurbishes used computers, took in 4% more used computers when the law took effect in January than it had in December.

ECS Regenesys, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based e-waste collector and processor with an office in Medford, says they've hired three people in Oregon to help with the extra workload.

But while an increase in volume typically means a boon to recyclers looking to extract precious metals and other valuable materials from e-waste, recyclers say the current reimbursement rate from the programs leaves no room for profit. They argue the current rate was set when commodity prices were soaring last year before the economic downturn, and now they are locked in until the next annual contracts are renegotiated.

"The cost of the program was heavily subsidized by the foreign commodity market," says Curt Spivey, a vice president at ECS Regenesys in Medford.

As a result, rates for individual customers and businesses looking to get rid of more than seven electronic items must be raised, says Spivey.

Even so, collectors and recyclers acknowledge the law benefits the environment and sets important industry standards. Proponents also say the law helps small businesses cut costs by offloading their dust-collecting gadgets for free.

Environmental groups such as the Association of Oregon Recyclers say the law is an effective way to prevent toxic electronic waste from entering the state's landfills.           

JASON SHUFFLER


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