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Minnesota Legislature

At Issue: Control-alt-delete

Published (4/10/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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John Reese of CRT Processing in Oakdale adds another computer monitior to an e-waste bin April 8. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)“Ask and you shall receive” could be the slogan of Minnesota’s electronics recycling legislation.

The Minnesota Electronics Recycling Act of 2007 requires manufacturers of computers and other electronic devices to keep control-alt-deleting consumers’ unwanted items.

Between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008, solid waste agencies, retailers and manufacturers collected 6.3 pounds of electronic waste per Minnesotan.

In all, 11.6 tons were diverted from landfills in 2007. Thousands of people waited in their cars for hours to dump old electronics at a three-day event next to the Mall of America in November 2007. The widely advertised free collection was so successful, it had to be shut down on the second day.

“We were, to some extent, a victim of our own success,” said Rep. Brita Sailer (DFL-Park Rapids), who sponsors HF1648 to amend the recycling act.

Each year, manufacturers are required to collect the equivalent of 60 percent in discarded electronics compared to the amount of items they sold during the previous year. If they collect more than 60 percent, they are awarded recycling credits. Manufacturers built up so many credits the first year of the program they could go three years without having to collect one more item. That poses a problem for counties that find themselves caught in the middle.

“We’re going to end up having to pay to get those recycled. Most counties had some sort of arrangement with the recycler, which piggybacked off the arrangement between the recycler and manufacturer, where the collector was getting about 2 cents per pound, about $40 a ton in revenue, to come in and help offset some of their program costs — the advertising, the consolidation, organizing the materials and getting them ready for shipment,” said Jon Steiner, Polk County solid waste administrator and president of the Solid Waste Administration Association.

With manufacturers sitting on top of their credits, Sailer’s bill attempts to restore incentives. It removes a three-year cap for manufacturers to use their credits. Instead, they would only be able to apply 25 percent of their credits toward their yearly obligation to collect electronic waste.

The bill, and its companion, SF1486, sponsored by Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-Mpls), await action on the House and Senate floors, respectively.

Some legislators said more education about where and how to recycle electronics is needed for people with all of the pent-up waste.

Most counties accept electronic waste free of charge or for a small fee.

Retailers are also accepting discarded electronics on behalf of the manufacturers.

In January, Richfield-based Best Buy rolled out its “Take Back” program at 1,000 stores nationally, after successfully piloting the program in Minnesota last July, according to Laura Bishop, director of government relations for the retailer. The retail chain accepts used electronic products that it also offers for sale. There is a $10 recycle fee on screen devices, but customers receive a $10 gift card in exchange for the fee, Bishop said. Items recycled under the Insignia brand, Best Buy’s house label, do not require a $10 recycling fee.

While recycling efforts have been strong in metropolitan areas, rural opportunities may not be quite as commonplace. Steiner said a handful of counties still do not accept electronic waste and others may charge a fee.

Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) disputes the statewide success of the year-old law. He said electronic waste in rural Minnesota is apt to wind up in roadside ditches or in the landfills.

“The program is not successful until it has no fees and it’s available, reasonably, to every resident in the state,” Juhnke said.

MRM, a provider of electronic waste recycling management services to manufacturers, has developed a network of 21 locations in the state. Executive Director Tricia Conroy said the company’s Minnesota members are responsible for collecting 33 percent of what’s been recycled, or 18 million pounds. A list of those locations can be found at www.mrmrecycling.com.

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