Testimony from Sheila Davis, Executive Director
Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
To California Assembly Oversight Hearing on Waste Management in California, Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxics Materials and Assembly Committee on Natural Resources
February 28, 2011
Mr. Chairman and Committee Members:
I am Sheila Davis, and I am the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about the very important issue of electronic waste recycling.
The problem of electronic waste in California is becoming critical. The 2003 California Electronic Recycling Act was the first electronic waste recycling law in the nation. In many respects, the California Electronic Recycling Act is a beta version of electronic recycling laws. Since 2003 more than 16 states have passed e-waste recycling laws and many states have significantly improved on the California law through restricting exports of hazardous electronic waste to developing countries and requiring manufacturers’ financial participation in the state ewaste recycling programs.
The CA Electronic Waste Recycling Act has proven limited in scope and has not gone far enough in protecting human health and the environment.
I became involved in ewaste issue while working in the legislative office of the late Senator Milton Marks who authored the first ewaste recycling bill in the nation in 1994. Senator Marks saw that policies supporting ewaste infrastructure development would create jobs, improve recycling rates and encourage participation from manufacturers. I saw the possibly to creating jobs through recycling and continued to work on ewaste recycling and economic develop as a community development expert at an NGO. However, I came to realize that you cannot create safe jobs without electronic manufacturers commitment to designing the products to be recycled and reducing the toxic materials that cause exposures. Over the last seven years I have worked at SVTC advocating for manufacturer responsibility and toxic reduction.
After almost 15 years in this field, I still strongly believe in the potential to develop environmental policies that create recycling jobs, protect human health and extend the responsibility of the life cycle impacts of the products to the electronic makers.
In California we should be proud that we were leaders in passing ewaste recycling laws. But we must recognize that the current version of the law is not up to the potential of job creation, environmental protection and reducing lifecycle impacts.
I know the law is not working because I have recently travelled to regions where ewaste from California is being dumped. In Delhi, India we saw men, women and children living in the worst poverty without running water or electricity smashing CRTs and printers and other products from the US. I have traveled to Taiwan and seen the banks of the Erren River where illegal recycling activities from importers has polluted this river so badly that my eyes stung and my nose burned while traveling up the river by boat. No fish live in the river and the river banks are littered with integrated circuit board stacked 6-8 high along the river banks.
SVTC recommends the follow changes to the CA waste recycling law.
1. First, SVTC recommends that the State of California require all authorized ewaste recyclers to become certified E-stewards. The E-steward certification, developed by the Basel Action Network, is an audited system that requires ewaste recyclers to responsibly recycle in the US. Currently, it is deceiving for Californians to go to a State website and find a list of “authorized” e-waste recyclers and assume that because the State has authorized these recyclers, that they are responsibly recycling all products collected. Santa Clara County recently passed an ordinance requiring the use of E-stewards for all of the county contracts and there should be no reason why the state of California can not only use authorize recyclers that have the highest standards and agreed to responsibly process all ewaste collected in the US before the materials are exported. This policy will protect human health and the environment and possibly create jobs in California.
2. Second, SVTC strongly recommends that manufactures financially contribute to recycling and infrastructure development in the state. Unfortunately, in the current law only customers contribute to the cost of recycling. Manufacturers bear no responsibility for the e-waste they create or the toxic chemicals they put in their products. Model policies for EPR (extended producer responsibility) for electronics manufacturers have been developed in States such as Washington and Minnesota. Given California’s current financial crisis, manufacturer’s contribution to the cost of recycling and building California infrastructure should be is strongly considered.
3. Third, SVTC recommends that the products that are covered by the law are expanded to all consumer electronics with a plug. Currently only certain visual displays and laptops are covered by the law and the processing fee. We are well aware that products that are not covered by the state payment system are collected along with the “covered electronics.” However, because recyclers don’t get paid for non-covered electronics (printers, cell phones, peripherals such as modems etc.), these toxic products are legally shipped overseas and have detrimental environmental and health impacts to communities in developing countries.
4. Finally, and most importantly, the law should not be static. The electronic industry rapidly changes and innovates and in California we need laws that do the same. In Silicon Valley there is already a new wave of technology that includes potential hazardous waste from solar panels, car batteries and new materials such as nanomaterials. California electronic recycling laws should provide a means to continue to review, test new policies and evaluate these policies so that the state is not stuck with a beta version of ewaste recycling laws when the rest of the world and the electronic industry is moving on to ewaste recycling version 2.0.