By David Gonzalez, D.P.A.
If California regulators seriously consider themselves the world leaders in environmental protection, why have they done absolutely nothing to crack down on companies that haven’t been recycling their e-waste as required by law?
This is not only an affront to the environment and Governor Brown’s desire for a strong progressive green legacy -- but also to the millions of California consumers who are charged an e-waste recycling fee when they purchase major electronics. They rightfully expect that money is going to be used for that very purpose.
Since 2010, the state has allowed companies to ship millions of pounds of California e-waste – toxic components of old computers, televisions and other electronics – to a recycling facility in Arizona. However, there is a little problem: the Arizona company, Closed Loop, has failed to do any recycling and is about to go out of business – all the e-waste is just being stored in massive warehouses.
This is something California regulators have known about for sometime, but they apparently are feeling no urgency to act.
In a recent trade publication, Jeff Hunts, who manages California’s consumer-funded electronics recycling program at CalRecycle said, “There is ‘absolutely’ a possibility that California suppliers of Closed Loop could be required by California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to retrieve and dispose of the material that is in storage.”
He was also quoted as saying: "In California, an electronic waste recycler that generates a waste CRT and then ships that waste CRT to an intermediate facility is obligated to be able to demonstrate that the material ultimately moves on to a compliant ultimate disposition . . . In the case of Closed Loop … DTSC emergency rules, in theory, could be used to obligate a California recycler to redirect material."
This crisis needs the attention of Scott Smithline, the recently confirmed director of CalRecycle, which oversees the e-Waste program. At his confirmation hearing, he talked about continuing the state’s leadership in environmental protection and meeting recycling goals. Furthermore, CalRecycle states “integrity” as a core value, saying: “We do not hesitate when needing to take steps to ensure compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements.”
It’s hard to see how this squares with Smithline failing to act on this e-waste crisis. It also raises a number of serious questions:
■ Are these companies still being allowed to send their e-Waste to Closed Loop?
■ If so, why have CalRecycle and the California Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC) permitted this to happen?
■ Why are CalRecycle and DTSC not holding companies accountable for not complying with the law?
■ Why should consumers be paying for a program that isn’t meeting its intended purpose and how can Smithline and CalRecycle justify his July 20 increased fees on consumers?
■ Despite knowing about this problem for some time, what is the state planning to do?
■ Why has DTSC not invoked its emergency powers and why are they looking at this as a theoretical problem and not a full-blown assault on companies thumbing their noses at California’s e-waste laws?
■ How much of California’s nearly 2-billion pounds of e-waste has actually been recycled and how much is simply piling up on what is apparently the Mt. Everest of e-Waste?
If California truly considers itself the promised land of environmental and consumer protection, CalRecycle and DTSC need to honor that promise, and take bold action to address this e-waste crisis.
Dr. David Gonzalez is associate professor of Public Administration and Organizational Leadership with expertise in government processes, systems and service delivery. He has been in local government service for two decades.