Overview of State & Local Electronic Recycling Issues

The Illinois’ Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act (Act) bans the disposal of seventeen consumer electronic items in Illinois landfills. The Act was established to conserve natural resources and energy while limiting environmental and health risks by promoting the recycling of toxic materials from obsolete electronics such as lead, mercury, cadmium, mercury, and beryllium.

Per the Act, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are to carry the cost of collecting and recycling consumer electronic devices. Although the OEMs operate in the free market, the Act sets a quota that OEMs must collect, based on their previous sales. OEMs meet this quota by developing contracts with recyclers and collectors that are registered with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).

Since the landfill ban went into effect in 2012, Illinois has responsibly recycled tens of millions of pounds of material on an annual basis to the benefit of the environment and human health. However, since that time, some issues have surfaced that affect consumers wishing to manage their unwanted electronic devices responsibly.  A few of these problems are explained below.

The Act’s quota system for collected electronics is insufficient for the number of consumer devices which are no longer wanted. For down-state communities, this is realized to even a greater extent since collectors incur increased transportation costs to bring materials to market as compared to metropolitan areas. The Act compensates for this to some degree in allowing “underserved” counties with lower populations to have their collected electronics count twice in the quota. However, since Macon County does not qualify as an underserved county, this advantage is not realized. Furthermore, since a quota system was enacted rather than a convenience standard, OEMs are incentivized to work with collectors in densely populated areas exclusively.

The cost associated with managing electronics has rapidly increased during a time when commodity prices have sharply fallen. The cost of handling leaded glass from TVs and monitors has become particularly burdensome since the number of outlets across the globe that accept the toxic, weight-laden material has dramatically decreased.

The number of collectors is decreasing as they are reportedly becoming “squeezed” out of the market. Within the past few years, two electronics collectors closed their Decatur retail stores; two other recycling firms dropped their collection services for consumer electronics and numerous thrift stores have stopped taking TVs as donations. The number of collectors in Macon County has decreased, but the demand for electronics recycling appears only to be increasing.

Macon County Environmental Management will continue to offer collection events for its residents while implementing a new registration system and introducing fees for the acceptance of TVs and monitors.