California’s Covered Electronic Waste Program, Explained
While the pace of technology routinely brings new electronic wonders, it also creates a stream of outdated, unwanted devices. California has taken a comprehensive approach to ensure discarded electronics are environmentally managed, and the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) is leading the way with the state’s Covered Electronic Waste (CEW) Program.
The CEW Program was established through the Electronic Waste Recycling Act (SB 20, Sher, Chapter 526, Statutes of 2003) and took effect in 2005. The legislation set up a state-administered funding system comprised of authorized collectors and recyclers and financed by a consumer fee. To date, participating operators have helped ensure the recycling and detailed management of more than 2.2 billion pounds of California’s covered electronic waste.
The CEW Program, similar to others under the purview of CalRecycle, centers on serving the needs of both the environment and human health. In California, all electronic waste is considered to be hazardous, and many e-waste components are difficult to recycle. The purpose of the CEW Program is to promote resource conservation and job growth through the recovery and recycling of as much e-waste as possible, and to protect the public health and safety by mandating safe, responsible end-of-life management of e-waste materials that are not recyclable or for which there are no reuse markets.
Under California’s CEW Program, “covered electronic devices”—on which consumer recycling fees are assessed—are defined as video display devices with screens greater than 4 inches (diagonally). These include cathode ray tube (CRT) devices, TV and computer monitors containing CRTs, TV and computer monitors containing Liquid Crystal Displays, laptops and tablets with LCD screens, plasma TVs, and personal portable DVD players with LCD screens. The consumer fee on purchases of new covered devices in California is currently set at $5, $6 or $7 (based on screen size).
More broadly, the term “e-waste” is often applied to all consumer and business electronic equipment that is near or at the end of its useful life. More than half of all electronic waste discarded in California is not “covered electronic waste”—things like computer central processing units, stereos, printers, telephones, etc.—but still are materials regulated under California law and require proper handling.While the federal government and other states have different regulations, CEW handlers and processors are generally regulated more stringently in California. Materials recovered in the CEW Program, both CRT and non-CRT devices, are dismantled in-state, providing jobs and ensuring that what value exists—metals, plastics, components—is diverted from disposal and re-enters the secondary markets.
Certain residual materials, such as CRT glass, continue to be regulated once a device is dismantled. Bare CRT tubes, as well as processed CRT glass, make up about 50-60 percent of the original CRT device by weight. Regulated residuals that do not have viable or environmentally sound markets, such as certain CRT glass, must be disposed of in hazardous waste and other regulated facilities.
The future of electronics is only getting more complex. While CRT devices still make up a large percentage of recovered devices, more flat-panel technology with little to no recycling value is fast emerging within California’s electronic waste stream. data-sf-ec-immutable=""> continues to be fully transparent about these challenges in monthly public meetings and public workshops with stakeholders. The department has instituted regulatory reforms to address these challenges and supports continued implementation of a new law designed to help deal with the ultimate disposition of certain CRT glass.
CalRecycle encourages consumers to remain engaged and play a role in the policies that affect California and the world. The CEW Program has been a successful endeavor due to the participating public, the actions of industry, and regulatory oversight. CalRecycle looks forward to its leadership role and the continued evolution of electronic waste management.
Remember to take your old electronics to an e-waste recycling center when you upgrade.