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Electronic take-back programs could save millions

November 2, 2012

Take-back programs for electronics in Nebraska could save taxpayers almost $2 million and create over 700 new private-sector jobs, according to new projections by The Nebraska Product Stewardship Coalition, an alliance of state and national organizations committed to shifting Nebraska’s waste management system from one focused on government funded waste diversion to one that relies on producer responsibility.

Electronic waste is the fastest growing component of Nebraska’s waste stream, contributing 7,550 tons to landfills each year, and costing the state approximately $285,928 annually to manage. Additionally, an estimated 30,000 tons of used electronics are currently kept in storage in Nebraska, which are expected to cost the state another $1.1 million to manage at the time of their eventual disposal.

“This is a critically important issue, particularly as we near the holiday gift-giving season, when Nebraskans receive new electronics and dispose of their old ones,” said Carrie Hakenkamp, executive director of WasteCap Nebraska. “Unfortunately, only 25 percent of discarded electronics will be recycled. That’s a lot of taxpayer dollars going toward the disposal of a product that could easily be recycled by its manufacturer, at no cost to taxpayers.”

The resounding success of existing government-mandated electronics take-back programs (also known as extended producer responsibility, or EPR, programs) highlights the effectiveness of this mechanism as a way to promote economic efficiency. The city of Milwaukee, for example, has saved a net $140,000 annually since it began implementing its electronics EPR program. In addition to disposal cost savings, the development of recycling infrastructure in Wisconsin led to $50 million in investments from large recycling companies. Similarly, electronics EPR programs in Washington and Oregon collectively support 360 in-state jobs.

“By implementing electronic take-back programs in Nebraska like those already in place in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, and other states, we can help reduce the financial burden of waste collection for our state, while also fostering a new and productive recycling economy,” says Gene Hanlon, Recycling Coordinator for the City of Lincoln.

An electronics EPR program would also encourage producers to recover precious raw materials, like gold and silver, from unwanted electronics and reuse or recycle them for profit. In 2010 alone, electronic waste in Nebraska included $2.8 million worth of rare earth metals. In addition to these economic advantages, an electronics take-back program would also afford the state of Nebraska with a host of public health and environmental benefits. Because computers, TVs, cell phones and other electronic devices contain toxic chemicals including lead, mercury, cadmium, and bromated flame retardants, when landfilled, these chemicals seep into the soil and contaminate crops, threatening the health of the population through its food supply. According to estimates from the U.S. EPA, Nebraska’s electronic waste in 2010 contained over 400,000 pounds of lead. Of course, even this health danger is a threat to the economic security of the state, as the chronic diseases caused by exposure to these dangerous chemicals are not cheap to treat.

For information on EPR and electronics in Nebraska, visit www.productstewardshipnebraska.org.

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