Recycling CRTS

from Maine Townsman, June 2004)
By Lee Burnett, Freelance Writer

Municipal transfer stations and recycling centers have a year and a half to prepare for a deluge of new junk: an estimated 400,000 obsolete computers and televisions currently collecting dust in attics and closets across Maine.

Triggering the flow is Maine’s pioneering law — enacted during this past legislative session — that compels manufacturers to take back their old machines beginning in January 2006. Cities and towns are expected to play a key role in cajoling the public to participate. Local governments are also responsible for ensuring the old units are delivered to regional consolidation centers, where manufacturers’ responsibilities begin.

Important details are yet to be worked out, such as collection systems, fees that municipal governments have the option of assessing, and the locations of consolidation centers. There is also reason to be concerned about foot-dragging by manufacturers since the industry was bitterly divided over the funding mechanism in Maine’s law. Still, the broad outlines of the program are clear enough that those with experience are predicting high participation.

“Be prepared for a fairly significant volume,” predicts Mark Draper, solid waste director for Tri-Community Landfill in Fort Fairfield, one of a few places in the state already accepting TVs and computers. “People have been storing them up for a while ... If your fees are reasonable, you’re likely to get a lot of them.”

Keeping TVs and computer screens out of landfills and incinerators has long been a priority for environmentalists because the cathode ray tube in each unit contains 5 to 8 pounds of lead and smaller amounts of mercury, chromium and cadmium. They are all serious environmental toxins whose presence in air and water have gradually been reduced. Since lead has been removed as an ingredient from gasoline and paint, cathode ray tubes were the next biggest threat.

“It’s huge. It’s the largest single category of product that puts lead into the environment,” said Jon Hinck of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

As befits complicated machines, TVs and computers are not easy to recycle, particularly old console-model TVs, which contain wood, glass, metal and plastic as well as all kinds of exotic materials such as PCBs, mercury and lead. Getting manufacturers to assume responsibility for taking them back is widely considered essential to instilling the necessary internal development incentive to produce products easier to recycle.

Towns and cities are responsible for ensuring the junked units get to the consolidation centers. A variety of collection options exist, according to Carol Cifrino of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Small towns that currently require residents to bring their household rubbish to a transfer station could instruct them to individually bring their old units to the nearest consolidation center. Medium-sized towns might allow residents to drop off sets at a designated storage shed and when volume is sufficient, arrange for truck transportation to a consolidation center. And cities might schedule a one-day-a-year curbside pickup program. “It’s up to each community how to fulfill their responsibility,” said Cifrino.

Local governments may opt out entirely and may assess an end-of-life fee, two options included in the law as a result of lobbying by MMA. The opt out provision was included for the benefit of New Hampshire border towns that may have existing contracts with New Hampshire landfills, where it is still legal to dump TVs and computers, according to Jeff Austin of the MMA. It was also included for the benefit of communities that may have existing relationships with recyclers and don’t want to bother with trucking some waste to a separate consolidation center. Says the NRCM’s Hinck: “I honestly believe if it is set up right, none will choose to opt out.”

The fee provision is to cover the costs of gearing up a program and for paying for ongoing transportation costs.

Keeping fees low is considered important to encourage participation and to discourage dumping TVs and computers along back roads.

A current operation that may provide guidance to others exists at Tri-Community Landfill in Aroostook County, jointly operated by Caribou, Limestone and Fort Fairfield and serving 30 other communities.

They charge $24 for any screen 25 inches and larger and $14 for those smaller than 25 inches. “All the money goes directly to pay for the cost of recycling. We accumulate units at the site, contract with a universal waste hauler. We make no money on them,” said Mark Draper, solid waste director at Tri-Community. Last year, his operation handled 850 units and at times storing them took up two bays of a three-bay garage.

Draper said the current fees are not low enough to discourage a certain amount of dumping in the woods, but they are necessary to cover transportation to ElectroniCycle’s reprocessing plant in Gardner, Mass. Draper said he expects to be able to substantially reduce his fees with the establishment of a consolidation center in Aroostook County.

“I think [new law] is going to be a help [in] that the manufacturers will be assuming part of the cost. Right now, the person throwing it away bears 100 percent of it,” said Draper. “I would expect fees would be reduced fairly significantly. Certainly if our costs are reduced, our fees would be reduced. The way the state has gone about it is a step in the right direction.”

Cifrino thinks Tri-Community will be able to reduce costs to “less than half as much” as current prices.
Draper’s parting advice (in addition to being prepared for a big influx of waste) is to “be in touch” with Maine’s DEP about proper storage of universal waste. “There are fairly specific rules and regulations. You need certain type of storage, packaged a certain way to prevent breakage, ventilation.”

In recent years, the Maine State Planning Office has helped prepare cities and towns for new waste handling responsibilities by awarding grants for the construction of “universal waste” storage sheds. The first 42 grants were for fairly small storage sheds, designed for handling flourescent bulbs and other mercury-containing devices, according to Sam Morrison at the SPO. More recently, the SPO has awarded larger grants sufficient to build 70 one-bay garages. Some money is still left over, he said. “For now, we’ve satisfied the need,” he said.

The success of Maine’s program may hinge on the number and location of consolidation centers. A large number conveniently located will tend to keep municipal transportation costs down, fees down, and participation up, but the industry will want to limit the number to keep its own costs down. Maine already has the beginnings of a network in place. These are private enterprises that have already been licensed to handle CRTs from businesses and to handle mercury devices from households and businesses. There are 14 such businesses, although only 10 of them currently handle CRTs. (See accompanying list.) “That infrastructure is already in place,” said Cifrino. She thinks the existing network may be sufficient. “I don’t think any more are necessary. It’s something the market will work out,” she said. The law requires a sufficient number of consolidation centers to “ensure regional distribution” but does not spell out how many or where.

Look for MMA and NRCM to push for more consolidation sites than currently exist.

“We’d like cost on municipalities as low as possible for almost the same reason as municipalities,” said NRCM’s Hinck.

Manufacturers have until March 2005 to submit compliance plans, at which time any laggards will be identified, according to Cifrino.

There is reason to be concerned about compliance since manufacturers fought among themselves over the funding mechanism. The eventual winners were those companies that favored a program that required manufacturers to assume financial responsibility. That includes Hewlett Packard, Dell, and to a lesser extent Intel, Canon and Nokia. The losers were those companies that preferred putting the cost directly on consumers through a flat “advanced recovery fee” on the sale of every computer and TV in Maine. That includes Apple, IBM, Phillips, Panasonic and all the TV manufacturers.

The issue has yet to play out nationally. While Maine is the first state to require manufacturer responsibility (following Japan and European Union countries), California has gone with an advanced recovery fee. Some activists worry that the losers in Maine may stall to give them time to regroup and fight for a preferred funding mechanism in another state to serve as the national model.

“I think we’re going to have to corral manufacturers,” said Hinck of the NRCM.

“I fear some see Maine’s system as a model that is not in their interest.”

His position is shared by David Wood, executive director of Grassroots Recycling Network, the Wisconsin-based advocacy group pushing for manufacturer responsibility nationwide.

“There’s a very good chance of footdragging (in Maine),” said Wood. “But there’s an equally good chance that leadership by HP and Dell will prevail. They’re just as likely to circle the wagons and push for a system that best fits their business model. It’s a very interesting dynamic. There’s a sharp division. A clash of titans which way it goes. The trade association was neutralized and that undercut or tended to peel away folks who would have been naturally opposed to (manufacturers’ responsibility) on the grounds that it was bad for business.”

The argument for an “advance recovery fee” is that it is potentially easier to administer and fits more closely with state and locally run recycling programs. But there was concern that an upfront fee would drive more southern Maine customers over the border to buy their TVs and computers. And there was a fine line between what companies would accept as a fee (a $10 cap was initially proposed) and what might be necessary to fund a successful program (possibly more than $10 per unit). TV companies in particular favored an ARF because the costs of recycling old TVs — containing more exotic materials — is particularly high.

Those arguments apparently carried weight in California, which has adopted an ARF, but not here in Maine. Maine was already predisposed to requiring manufacturer responsibility since the state already has a law on the books requiring car companies to pay for the cost of removing and disposing of mercury switches in cars headed for the junkyard.

The strongest argument for requiring “producer responsibility” is that it brings market forces and innovation to bear on the problem. An upfront fee paid by consumer creates no incentive for companies to produce machines that are easier to recycle. “By internalizing these costs, it will provide incentive to improve product design and change the way computers are manufactured and the materials used,” said Wood. Hewlett Packard — which owns a reprocessing plant in Tennesee — and Dell are recycling leaders. Design innovation is already occurring, according to Wood. A tin-silver amalgam with higher performance is replacing lead solder. A new plastic resin has been developed that is easier to separate plastic types, and glue and screws are being phased out in favor of a heat-sensitive adhesive.

A better omen for the success of Maine’s program is that underlying the manufacturers’ divisions was a universal willingness to admit there’s a problem. That became clear soon after the legislative debate opened in Maine. Represented were TV and computer manufacturers, trade groups, the Maine Chamber of Commerce, environmentalists, waste handlers, and various state agencies.

“Among all the participants, there was not a single corporate voice that said ‘you should do nothing’” said NRCM’s Hinck. “Everyone in their testimony directly said there’s a problem and they were concerned.”

The industry’s ready acknowledgement of a problem — which contrasts with a long-standing reluctance in some industries to face up to the environmental costs of their products — has drawn a variety of reactions.

“They must know something the rest of us do not,” said NRCM’s Hinck. He thinks computer and TV manufacturers realize the country is facing a very visible “tsunami of waste,” particularly since the advent of high-definition television will encourage more people to junk their old sets. He also believes companies see benefits to salvaging reusable materials that can offset the costs of a program.

The DEP’s Cifrino said manufacturers chose against the do-nothing path in Maine because they are already facing take-back obligations in Japan and Europe. “It’s basically not something they don’t have to do other places,” she said. “It’s something they don’t want to get bad publicity on.”

Grassroots Recycling Network’s Wood believes three factors are driving the willingness: (1) the visibility of the problem; (2) it creates a new way to cement the loyalty of customers for an industry that prides itself on extended relationships with customers, and (3) it could lead to more innovation, especially for innovation-driven companies.

Maine’s new law has been hailed as an important environmental initiative. Likely, it will also be a great spectacle to behold at a transfer station near you. Where else are you likely to see such a collection of ancient, obsolete, and just plain clunky machines. Some enterprising public works employees could probably even charge admission.

Companies Licensed by DEP to Store and Transport Universal Wastes

The companies on this list have already been licensed by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to store and transport universal waste such as CRTs (computer monitors, central processing units and TVs), mercury lamps, mercury devices (thermometers, manometers, switches), mercury thermostats, motor vehicle mercury switches, PCB ballasts (non-leaking) and batteries. They are likely to be designated as consolidation centers to handle TVs and computers from households. In addition, three municipal recycling centers are likely to be designated as consolidation centers: in Norway, Lincoln County and Kittery.

Chem Safe Consulting
P.O. Box 332
Mapleton, ME 04757-0332
(universal waste consultant, not a handler)

Clean Harbors Environmental
Services, Inc.
17 Main Street
South Portland, ME 04106

Conservation Lighting
84D Warren Ave.
Westbrook, ME 04092
(Does not currently handle CRTs)

End Of Life Electronics
125 John Roberts Rd.
South Portland, ME 04106

ENPRO Services, Inc.
106 Main Street
South Portland, ME 04106

Environ Services, Inc.
18 Gorham Industrial Parkway
P. O. Box 8101
Portland, ME 04104

Environmental Management, Inc.
51 River Road
Brunswick, ME 04011

Gilman Electrical Supply
53 Main Street
Newport, ME 04953
(Does not currently handle CRTs)

J &J Sales Co.
220 State Road
Kittery, ME
Box 2033
Norway, ME 04268

Maine Labpack, Inc.
248 Preble Street
South Portland, ME 04106

NOVA Recycling
512 Wolfboro Road
Stetson, ME 04488

Troiano Waste Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 3541
Portland, ME 04104-3541

Safety Kleen Corporation
Route 202, RR3, Box 1990
Leeds, ME 04263
(Does not currently handle CRTs)

Wesco Distribution
80 Farm Road
Bangor, ME 04401