Dell pushes Texas e-cycling law

Electronics manufacturers will have to collect and recycle outdated PCs -- but not TVs -- from consumers in Texas, according to a bill working its way through the state legislature that could become a model for other states.

According to House Bill 2714, manufacturers would have to place a sticker on any computer or monitor that they wanted to sell in the state, informing consumers that they may return the equipment to the vendor for recycling or reuse without paying an additional fee. Each manufacturer would then have to file an annual report to state regulators listing the weight of computer equipment they have recycled or reused.

PCs and computer peripherals put out in curbside trash end up in landfills, where they can leach lead, mercury and other toxins into the environment.

"Texans generate a massive amount of 'e-waste' every year -- enough to threaten to overwhelm our landfills, let alone poison our air or water. But I believe that if we partner with manufacturers who are increasingly concerned about the issue, we can find a better home for our aging computers and iPods," said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Kirk Watson, in a statement on his Web site.

The legislation passed votes in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives in May and awaits a signature from Gov. Rick Perry. A spokeswoman for the governor's office confirmed on Friday that Perry had received the bill but said he had not yet announced whether he would sign it by the June 17 deadline.

Despite the bill's smooth progress through the Texas statehouse, some recycling experts warn that it is incomplete.

The bill has a good fiscal structure, since it assigns environmental responsibility to the PC manufacturer instead of the consumer, the state or the landfill operator, said Ted Smith, senior strategist at the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

But the bill is flawed because it focuses only on PCs and their peripherals, instead of covering a wider array of electronic equipment, he said.

"We prefer the producer responsibility approach rather than the consumer fee approach, so that part we like," Smith said. "However, the Texas bill only applies to computers and not to TVs -- this is a major weakness and is as a result of Dell's lobbying position. TVs are just as toxic and problematic as computers, and we favor a comprehensive approach that covers both."

The Electronic Industries Alliance, a trade group representing manufacturers of technology products, recently announced a recycling agreement supported by both television and computer hardware makers. Dell Inc. has a major corporate presence in Texas, including its headquarters in Round Rock, just outside of the state capital of Austin. On Friday, the computer maker denied opposing the inclusion of television sets in the law but said that TVs do not fit easily into standard PC recycling streams because they include different components than computers and have a far longer life cycle.

"Our focus was 'Let's make sure that IT and consumer electronics get in there, and if legislators want to put other electronics in the mix, that would be fine with us.' But what we didn't want to do was to slow or stall the process of the legislation," said Dell spokeswoman Colleen Ryan.

In fact, if the law passes in its current form, it would have no effect on Dell's current recycling policies, since the company already offers worldwide free recycling of used Dell equipment, she said.

"Our take is that the marketplace is best positioned to address recycling, and that the legislature shouldn't collect fees or create new government infrastructure for recycling. We think Texas is an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the nation."

Dell is now working with policymakers in several other states to create the same type of "market-driven" approach to recycling, including electronics recycling bills now pending in North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Tennessee, she said. Those bills have a different model than existing laws in California, Maine, Maryland and Washington, which impose taxes on consumers or fees on vendors in order to fund government programs that administer the recycling programs, she said.

Despite the criticism of its lobbying efforts, Dell has announced a handful of recycling and power-efficiency initiatives in recent days. On Friday, Dell said that the EPEAT government procurement Web site awarded its highest rating to Dell's Latitude D630 notebook PC, as well as the OptiPlex 740 and 745 desktops. Dell also announced a plan last week to reduce the carbon intensity of its global operations by 15% by 2012, helping reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

"We ultimately think this [state bill] is the simplest, most effective way to recycle outdated electronics, and we hope the governor sees it the same way," Ryan said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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