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Calif. governor signs e-waste bill

The Electronic Waste Recycling Act imposes a fee on computer monitors and televisions and requires the eventual elimination of hazardous substances from those devices.

California Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday signed a bill that imposes fees on computer monitors and television sets to fund recycling efforts, a first in the United States.

The Electronic Waste Recycling Act, a second go-round by State Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), addresses the presence of certain chemicals found in devices that use cathode ray tubes (CRTs), flat-panel screens or other video displays larger than four inches. Substances including mercury, lead and brominated flame retardants, though not harmful while the device is in use, are thought to be hazardous to individuals and the environment if the gear is improperly disposed of.

The bill, which imposes a point-of-sale fee of $6 to $10 per device, is set to go into effect July 1, 2004. The fees also apply to mail order and Internet purchases. The size and nature of such fees has been a major sticking point in discussions among manufacturers, environmental groups and government agencies over the last several years.

A wide range of PC makers, including Dell and Hewlett-Packard, offer recycling services to consumers with costs ranging from zero to about $35.

Industry opposition scuttled Sher's effort last year to enact similar legislation. This year's version took a different tack regarding the role of manufacturers.

"Just about everybody was on board with it" when discussions were over, said Steve Maviglio, press secretary to Gov. Davis. The goal, he said, was "to make sure that California companies didn't have a disadvantage, and that's what we fixed."

The bill also requires makers of televisions and computers to phase out the use of hazardous materials in their products and prohibits the export of e-waste to developing nations, unless safety standards at the destination match those set by California. In addition, manufacturers will have to report every two years on their efforts to reduce those materials and to increase the recyclability of their products.

The state estimates that there are roughly 6 million obsolete computers and televisions stockpiled in California households that eventually will have to be dealt with, along with more than 10,000 more becoming obsolete each day.