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Electronic-waste recycling: The cup runneth over

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Leave it to Oregon. The state where recycling is practically an article of religion is having headaches with its new electronic recycling law: Way too many old TVs, computers and monitors have flooded in since the law took effect in January.

Mind you, it’s a problem the state doesn’t mind having. The more the better, state officials say. But the biggest manufacturers group participating in the program, the Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Co., or MRM, wants to call a bit of a time-out.

Warning that e-waste will substantially exceed its state-mandated target if the stuff keeps coming in at the current rate, MRM said it will limit collections to designated network collection sites and won’t reimburse for e-waste collected at special events organized by neighborhoods, church groups or county cleanup events. In addition, the company is asking collectors to limit their promotions for e-waste recycling to signs designed by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Oregon has one of the most user-friendly e-waste programs in the country. Individuals can bring in up to seven items free of charge, while schools and businesses can bring in any number. Every county, and every city with more than 10,000 people, has a convenient collection site.

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Problems arose because the state agreed to a minimum target for the first year -- about 12 million pounds -- and manufacturers began planning around the minimum. ‘What’s happened is not surprising to many of us. Oregonians are big recyclers, and they’ve brought in a lot of material,’ said Loretta Pickerell, solid-waste manager at the Department of Environmental Quality.

The state plans to speak with manufacturers to make sure they’re not asked to do more than their share. ‘But the bottom line is in a product stewardship situation, the manufacturers need to work this out,’ Pickerell said.

‘MRM indicated they were trying to slow down collections, which is not allowed ... and they can’t require people to prove they own the device they bring in. That’s not free and convenient, which is what the law requires.’

The company can tell groups organizing big community collections that this is ‘above and beyond’ what the company contracted for, she said. ‘But they can’t take down the signs, pull shut the blinds and turn out the lights. They can’t do that kind of slowdown.’

MRM represents more than 20 major electronics manufacturers, including Panasonic, Toshiba and Sharp.

So far, 18 states including California, along with New York City, have passed laws requiring e-waste recycling. At least 15 other states are considering legislation this year.

-- Kim Murphy


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