Who should pay for e-waste disposal?

HONG KONG -- Under the current proposal, producers are left unaccountable as all costs fall to consumers.

HONG KONG — Hong Kong will soon have a facility designated for dismantling and recycling electronic products such as televisions, refrigerators and computers.

A tax will be added to the price tags of electronic products to help pay for e-waste disposal. Based on a similar tax in other cities, the cost of home appliances is expected to go up by $12 to $30.

The question now is whether consumers should pay for all of the recycling costs. Some argue that retailers and manufacturers should pay for part of it to hold accountable all involved parties.

The current proposal places the recycling fee at the retail level, and it is likely that retailers will simply charge the extra cost to consumers. This type of legislation “is not really the spirit of producer responsibility” as intended by the legislation, said Edwin Lau, general affairs director of Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong.

Lau said in over 30 jurisdictions around the world, the e-waste fee is charged to the importer, as electronic products are frequently manufactured overseas.

“Of course producers have the responsibility to contribute a small part of their earning to the annual operation cost of the e-waste recycling plant that will have our e-waste properly dismantled and recycled and reused,” Lau said.

In California, there is a $10 fee added to the price of electronic products with viewable screens, but retailers may choose to pay the fee on behalf of the consumer to make its prices more competitive. Several other U.S. states charge e-waste recycling fees to manufacturers.

Right now, about 80% of Hong Kong’s e-waste is exported to other cities and countries. Many of these areas are poor and use polluting processes that are harmful to the workers’ health. “It’s not environmentally responsible,” Lau said, “and it’s not ethical.”

Photo: Vanessa Ko

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com