E-waste laws in the United States are dramatically failing to prevent electronics from being dumped into municipal landfills. This was revealed by a new study, “E-Waste Bans and U.S. Households’ Preferences for Disposing of Their E-Waste”. The inconsistency of laws across state lines and even between cities is largely responsible for the lack of compliance.
The proper discarding of e-waste is important because electronic products often contain lead, arsenic, mercury, and other dangerous materials. Dumping these elements into a normal landfill poses an environmental and human health threat. To reduce this hazard, state and local city governments across the country have implemented an array of laws to prevent individuals and businesses from throwing out old electronics with their other trash. However, the study has revealed that the rates of compliance are “dismally low.”
The inconsistency of the e-waste laws between, and even within states, is responsible for fueling this noncompliance. Jean-Daniel Saphores, co-author of the study, asserts that having a “patchwork” of different rules is an ineffective way of dealing with the issue. It leads to confusion and lack of awareness about exactly what is required. Furthermore, for businesses with a national presence the patchwork of laws make it impossible to have company-wide policies of compliance. More consistent national legislation is needed to bring a sense of clarity to the problem and make it easier to meet the requirements. According to the study’s authors, the U.S. should follow the example of associations like The European Union, which has a set of overreaching e-waste disposal rules that have proven much more successful.
The failure of the e-waste laws gives insight into ways in which other environmental legislation can be made more successful. Consistency and clarity is clearly essential. In the U.S. there will be continued debate on whether environmental regulation should be enacted by state and local lawmakers or by the national government. The e-waste case demonstrates that patchwork regulation can be drastically ineffective. Well-defined, national legislation will in general eliminate the problems that have led to the failure of the e-waste regulations.