Hawaii is about to launch one of the nation’s most ambitious tech waste recycling programs

Ironically, Hawaii has no ability to recycle electronic devices.
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 5:26 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 31, 2022 at 5:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is implementing one of the most ambitious electronic waste recycling plans in the country, but some Hawaii retailers are afraid it will mean higher prices and less selection.

Ironically, Hawaii has no ability to recycle electronic devices.

Instead, the material has to be collected and shipped to processing centers elsewhere.

The goal of the new law is to have manufacturers collect and ship out more and more of the used-up products.

But industry lobbyist Walter Alcorn, with the Consumer Technology Association, said the law sets goals that cannot be met. “On the industry side, it’s been a scramble.” Alcorn said. “Particularly for the computer and printer manufacturers that previously did not have to have this type of a program.”

State Rep. Nicole Lowen, chair of the Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, was among the lead advocates for the law. She said putting the full responsibility on the manufacturers will incentivize them to pay more attention to the waste their industry is generating.

“We are pushing them to rethink the design packaging, distribution systems of their products and create more efficiency, for the reuse and recycling of those products or the materials that they contain,” Lowen said.

The law required 49 manufacturers, from Apple to Samsung, to report how much product has been shipped in by weight and how they would set up systems to collect discarded devices and ship them to recycling locations.

There are none in Hawaii so all the products would have to be shipped out.

The law covers TVs, computers, tablets and printers, but exempts telephones, devices with screens smaller than 4 inches and those inside vehicles or appliances.

The ambitious recycling goals are measured in pounds.

In 2023, they must harvest half of the weight they shipped into Hawaii in 2021.

For Samsung Electronics America alone, that would be 959,376 pounds.

That goal raises to 60% in 2024 and 70% in 2025, which the industry said likely cannot be done. “So we think we’ll be OK next year,” said Alcon. “But it’s beyond that, where we’re looking at some serious compliance issues.”

The industry said measuring recycling by the pound doesn’t work because TVs and other devices are getting lighter.

That means the goals get increasingly out of reach as the law demands more pounds be recycled.

Lowen said that was taken into consideration so the goals were based on the pounds shipped in two years before the goal to diminish the effect of gradual weight reductions in products.

“To me, it’s just sort of, as expected, heel dragging,” Lowen said, responding to the industry concerns, “’Saying, we know these programs need to happen, eventually. But we just don’t want to move too fast.”

Lowen added Hawaii “can’t afford to keep waiting and kicking the can down the road.”

Meanwhile, the local retail industry is also concerned about unintended consequences.

Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said retailers may not have to pay for the recycling but might be expected to collect the used-up products for shipping by their suppliers.

She agreed that manufacturers might hesitate to ship to Hawaii if they begin facing penalties for not meeting goals.

“Worst-case scenario is they stopped shipping to Hawaii,” Yamaki said.

“Or they’re going to limit what they ship. So the choices for Hawaii is going to go down and the prices are going to go up and ultimately the consumer is the one who’s going to suffer.”

Even if shoppers end up paying more in the stores, supporters of the law say they will have an easier time getting rid of obsolete devices, likely at the store where they bought them, and will see savings in other ways.

“The cost overall, when you factor in the amount that taxpayers pay to clean up or mitigate environmental damages over the long term, I think it’s far less,” Lowen said.

The law originally set a Sept. 1 deadline for 49 manufacturers to submit their plans for recycling but the state Department of Health extended that to Tuesday.

The department said as of Monday it had received nine of the plans.