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Recycle bill helps Janesville recycler

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Kathleen Foody
June 5, 2009
— A bill requiring electronics manufacturers to shoulder the task of recycling their products could give a boost to Janesville recycler CRT Processing.

The company operates a processing plant for TVs, computers and other products that can contain harmful chemicals including lead. CRT already works with national corporations in other states, giving CRT an edge if Wisconsin requires manufacturers to do the same here.


Under the bill, manufacturers of printers, computers, televisions and other video display devices would be required to:


-- Arrange for the collection and recycling of electronic devices.


-- Report the annual weight of products sold and electronic devices collected for recycling.


-- Collect for recycling 80 percent of the weight of products sold each year.


-- Register with the state Department of Natural Resources and pay an annual fee of $5,000; manufacturers selling fewer than 100 eligible products annually would pay a smaller fee.


CRT President Jim Cornwell said it could cost manufacturers several million dollars to develop their own recycling plant. Cornwell hopes manufacturers instead contract with independent recyclers such as CRT.


CRT already has contracted nationally with 21 manufacturers, including Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba. Samsung also has signed a national partnership with CRT.


“Manufacturers don’t want to get involved and have to start their own recycling facilities,” Cornwell said. “They recognize that’s not their business model.”


The recyclers and contractors also would be required under the bill to register with the state, but they would pay a lower fee than manufacturers.


“Legitimate recyclers wanted a fee to weed out the fly-by-night operators and ensure that collection is done in a safe and healthy way,” said state Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, the primary sponsor of the bill.


Under CRT’s contracts with electronics manufacturers, it is responsible for providing permanent and temporary drop-off locations for consumers. Cornwell said he could not discuss financial specifics, but similar programs in other states already have increased the company’s intake of recyclables.


Last year, the Janesville CRT plant received more than 60 million pounds of material, a large jump from 30 million pounds the year before, said Jeff DeGarmo, account executive at CRT.


If the bill passes, Wisconsin would join a growing number of states with similar programs, including Minnesota and Illinois. Minnesota’s program in particular served as a model for Wisconsin’s proposal.


In Minnesota’s first year, 33.6 million pounds of electronic devices were recycled, the state underestimated demand by about 10 million pounds, said Garth Hickle of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.


Cornwell thinks the Wisconsin bill will pass, and CRT would have to hire 20 to 30 people to work at the Janesville recycling center. More workers at collection centers in other areas and drivers also could be needed.


If Janet Cline’s experience is any indication, the demand for electronics recycling options was high even before the pending legislation was introduced.


Cline for several years has been in charge of electronics collection drives through Walworth County’s solid waste division. The drives often result in traffic jams, and the county has collected more than 200,000 pounds in three years, she said.


Though collections dropped this year, Cline said providing more opportunities for consumers to drop off electronics can only help.


“It would be fabulous if this passes,” she said. “It places the biggest financial burden on manufacturers and will provide many, many more recycling opportunities to the public.”


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A electronics recycling bill being considered in Wisconsin would require manufacturers to meet arbitrary and unachievable goals, according to a trade group.


Rick Goss, vice president of environment and sustainability for the Information Technology Industry Council, said parts of the bill are unrealistic.


“There’s no way government can predict what the recycling market is going to be,” Goss said. “It’s based on consumers agreeing to turn their private products back into the market. If we don’t have enough consumers who are done with their TVs or computers, we can’t meet those numbers.”


The Wisconsin bill is closely modeled on Minnesota’s electronics recycling program, requiring manufacturers to collect and recycle 80 percent of the weight of electronics sold that year.


Supporters claim the bill allows manufacturers to evaluate their products and develop new technology to aid recycling.


Goss said the quotas force manufacturers to collect products from their competitors just to avoid the penalties for falling short of the collection marks.


“The numbers are absurd, frankly, and have nothing to do with producer responsibility,” he said. “We might as well be collecting household garbage just to hit the weight number.”


The group prefers the program Illinois implemented after reaching a compromise with manufacturers.


Illinois uses a pounds-per-capita requirement rather than requiring manufacturers to recycle based on a percentage of pounds sold. Goss said the Illinois Legislature estimated based on population that 38 million pounds of electronics could be recycled.


The Illinois system also allows rate adjustments each year and puts off penalties for missing quotas until the third year. Goss said the grace period allows manufacturers to develop recycling and collection plans for the state.


But a system like that in Illinois had virtually no support in the Wisconsin Senate. Even so, Goss said the trade group is hopeful the Wisconsin Assembly might consider its suggestions.



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