EDITORIAL: Make electronics recycling law revise a priority

The York Dispatch

The price of electronics — televisions, computers, printers, cellphones, you name it — have dropped so low in recent years such devices are almost disposable.

Alliance Computers, 984 Loucks Road, accepts electronics for recycling at no charge to the customer except for CRT computer monitors ($4) and large TVs ($10). (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

That TV or laptop might only last a few years, but hey — at that low, low price, it's still a bargain. When it dies, or when the new, must-have model comes out, consumer figure they'll just junk it.

That's pretty much the only option, as anyone who has tried to sell their old devices on craigslist can attest. Old electronics are a dime a dozen, and consumers can't even give them away in many cases.

York County authority suspends electronics recycling

Now residents in some Pennsylvania counties can't throw them away, either — at least not legally.

Last month, the York County Solid Waste Authority suspended its electronics recycling until further notice after the vendor it had lined up for the service in 2016 backed out, telling the authority it's cost-prohibitive.

That's bad news for residents, who are forbidden by state law from tossing most electronic devices out with their garbage but now have one less way to recycle them.

At issue is the well-intentioned Covered Device Recycling Act of 2010, which three years ago prohibited Pennsylvania consumers and businesses from disposing of most covered electronic devices (computers, laptops, monitors televisions and tablets) with their trash.

Recycling was the only way to go, and for a while it was fairly easy.

The York County Solid Waste Authority had scheduled regular drop-off days at its facility and in a dozen or so participating municipalities.

Manufacturers were also required to collect and recycle these devices, up to a point and based on their sales in the previous year.

Still, the manufacturers had to work with an electronics recycler permitted and certified to handle the devices, and this seems to be where the whole law breaks down.

There's just no money in it for the recyclers.

Ellen O'Connor, a spokeswoman for the York County authority, noted the price of metals found in electronics has dropped "so low it makes it unattractive for vendors to take part."

That has created a supply and demand imbalance for recyclers, she said, adding, "It's happening statewide. It's not just a York problem."

Some retailers like Best Buy continue to accept certain devices for free recycling, but we have to wonder how long they can handle the extra load. Since the authority stop offering electronic recycling, the local Best Buy has reportedly been inundated and has a growing pile of devices on its property.

The answer, most officials seem to agrees, is reworking the law.

"Several other Pennsylvania communities have experienced similar challenges with the implementation of the Covered Device Recycling Act," DEP spokesman Neil Shader wrote in an email about York County's predicament. "DEP is working with the General Assembly to address some of the unintended issues with electronic recycling that have arisen for counties, collection and recycling operations, and manufacturers."

Good, and we hope legislators make it a priority in 2016.

For absent a workable law, we suspect it won't be long before frustrated consumers find their own — albeit environmentally unfriendly and illegal — ways to unload unwanted electronic devices.