provide their own recycling programs.

Private Interests

HP recycles almost 4 million pounds per month, said St. Denis.

"We take old products apart that HP owns, refurbish them and use them to support customers who have the same thing," she said. "It's standard industry process to use used parts in support. It's in the contractual terms."

Reusing selective computer parts creates unusable leftovers, and St. Denis was charged with researching options for disposing of or recycling those leftovers. She approached Noranda, a Canadian mining company already recycling precious metals for HP, to ask if additional metals or other materials in computer electronics could be recycled.

After extensive testing and new equipment, Noranda further broke down HP's e-waste into steel, aluminum, brass, zinc, nickel, plastic and glass.

Through research and active participation, St. Denis said HP developed a unique perspective on recycling policy issues.

"HP is positioned so we understand the operations side of [recycling], understand a lot of the customer side of it -- what customers like and don't like about various services. We know the values of the materials coming back so we can understand what the costs are going to be," said St. Denis.

HP favors a manufacturer responsibility model to handle electronic waste, believing that manufacturers would manage the process like a business, and figure out alternatives to drive costs down and achieve set goals, according to St. Denis.

Directing responsibility at manufacturers motivates them to improve design to lower waste costs, said Jon Hinck, staff attorney of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), the organization largely responsible for lobbying on behalf of Maine's legislation and seeing it through to enactment.

"If you have a more manufacturer responsibility-based approach, manufacturers will bring the efficiencies that private interests bring to getting something done," Hinck said.

He predicts, however, that some manufacturers will fight the manufacturer responsibility laws.

"Some of the opponents seem to feel -- their lawyers and lobbyists feel -- that anything that puts responsibility on them needs to be fought. I think that's an American industry approach, which makes it hard to get good input from them, because if it means any responsibility at all, they're against it," said Hinck.

But the costs generated from the Maine legislation are not large for any manufacturer, Hinck said. As a result, he said, the fight is symbolic.

"Opponents don't want Maine to work because other people might follow the model."

Consumers Pay

Opponents of Maine's model might consider California's law -- charging advanced recovery fees (ARFs) to consumers upon purchasing electronics -- the solution.

Using the ARF model nationwide might be a good thing if the fees were used efficiently, said St. Denis, but she expressed concern that the government lacks the efficiencies private interests bring to the table.

California collected an estimated $31 million via the electronic waste recycling program from its inception in January 2005 through July, according to Peck. The state pays out 48 cents per pound to recyclers that are approved to participate and can provide the documentation proving that the devices originated in California.

These recyclers are paid too much money, according to St. Denis, who said HP recycles at an average rate of 20 cents per pound, saving consumers money. She also said administering fees requires a lot of red tape and additional government support staff.

"I'm not saying government shouldn't raise money, but let's be honest about what they're doing: taxing our products to raise money that's probably going to be used ultimately for something else."

For instance, California doesn't have enough people to ensure that recyclers are doing their job the way they're contracted to, St. Denis said.

Sherry Watkins  |  Contributing Writer