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Plan to replace MN’s aging electronic waste recycling program gains environmental committee’s OK

Billions of dollars of valuable metals sitting in dumps, heavy metals leaching into groundwater, hundreds of landfill fires caused by lithium-ion batteries: these are just a few of the issues linked to people tossing phones or batteries into the trash.

And that’s not to mention junk drawers full of outdated electronics owners aren’t sure what to do with.

A bid to manage these issues is behind HF3566, that would replace the state’s 17-year-old electronic waste recycling program with one that would recycle every device. The bill would expand the definition of electronic waste, provide free collection, and create incentives to divert electronics from the waste stream.

It was approved as amended Wednesday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee and sent to the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL-St. Paul), the bill sponsor, said it builds on the current system, which was established at the same time the iPhone came out. Many devices aren’t covered, and manufacturers don’t bear the full cost of collection and recycling, meaning many people get charged when they dispose of their devices.

About 25% of electronic waste is recycled. Increasing that amount would not only remove pollutants but could recover billions of dollars of materials like copper, platinum and palladium, which are critical to moving off fossil fuels.  

“Right now, there are closets full of old fax machines, desktops and laptops that have precious metals we need in order to make this clean energy transition,” Hollins said.

The bill calls for a recycling program for electrical devices funded by a retail fee of 3.2% for most electronic recyclables – defined as devices that are powered by, generate, conduct or store electricity. Cell phones would incur a flat 90-cent fee.

The fees are expected to raise about $100 million annually with money used to operate the system.

A current recycling program for computers, televisions, printers and monitors would change with manufacturers being charged a fee based on market share to participate in a stewardship program.

While agreeing that more can be done to recycle, bill opponents say electronic waste represents less than 3% of the waste stream.

Retailers and others in the industry balk at fees which they say amount to a sales tax that could grow to more than 13% in some communities and push customers across the state borders.

However, supporters say an additional cost at purchase is a fraction of the cost many people are currently charged at disposal. For example, a smoke detector would cost customers 92 cents more at purchase, compared to $15 to toss.

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