Recycling Tax Plan for PCs Due for Debate

Bill would assess a fee on PCs, monitors and laptop computers.

It may be a hard sell in todays economic and political climate, but a plan to tack a recycling tax onto the price of computers and monitors is expected to emerge in Congress early next month.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., has crafted a bill that would assess a fee of no more than $10 on PCs, monitors and laptop computers, aides to the congressman said last week. Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency would disperse the funds through grants to organizations that reuse, resell or recycle computers and to groups that extract raw materials.

With an estimated 250 million computers slated for the junk heap by 2005, the plan—however untimely—is likely a harbinger of things to come, proponents say.

"I have confidence that American hardware companies will continue to be the most competitive in the world," Thompson told eWeek late last week. "A minimal fee on computers that will go to promote recycling wont endanger their competitiveness."

Thompson sponsored similar legislation last summer, but the measure gained little support. As such, Thompson updated the bill, clarifying that end-user-to-end-user sales would be exempt from the fee and that local governments would be eligible for grants, a Thompson aide said.

According to the EPA, electronics make up the fastest-growing portion of trash in the United States, with 3.2 million tons of electronics waste thrown in landfills each year. All U.S. computer manufacturers are involved in voluntary recycling programs, and several, including Dell Computer Corp., are participating in the EPAs Plug-in to Recycling campaign launched earlier this month.

Several state legislatures, including those of California and Massachusetts, are expected to consider recycling mandates this year, raising the unwelcome specter of a hodgepodge of state laws. Because of that looming threat, the industry is not opposed outright to a federal initiative of some kind.

"We want a national solution," said Heather Bowman, director of environmental affairs at the Electronic Industries Alliance, in Washington. "We do think that some legislation on the federal level could be helpful."


  • Electronics waste thrown in landfills each year 3.2 million tons
  • Computers recycled in 2001 11%
  • Average lead content of computers 4 pounds
    Source: EPA
While willing to consider federal solutions to the problem, the industry is unlikely to support a new tax on its products this year. Instead, it favors giving voluntary programs more time to achieve results, Bowman said.

In addition, many in the industry question whether the EPA could administer such a program most efficiently, Bowman said.

Corporate users of computer equipment share some of the industrys concerns. While some enterprises are not bothered so much by the added expense incurred from a new federal tax, they are bothered by the potentially burdensome—and unproven—procedures involved.

"It costs us quite a bit in time and money to get rid of old computers today," said Kevin Baradet, network systems administrator at the S.C. Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "I would be willing to pay the $10 fee if I knew the product were going to be disposed of in a responsible manner."

"There is incredible support for implementing a solution to our electronics waste problem," Thompson said. "There has been substantial interest from other members on this issue, and Im looking forward to receiving broad support for my bill."