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Japanese Companies Spur Ecycling

The U.S. could take a page from Japan’s ecycling efforts, especially as the consumer electronics industry heads down the home stretch to the analog shut-off in February 2009.

Japanese Companies Spur Ecycling

Aug 4, 2008 8:06 AM,
by Rebecca Day

Panasonic BT-LH1760

The U.S. could take a page from Japan’s ecycling efforts, especially as the consumer electronics industry heads down the home stretch to the analog shut-off in February 2009. On a recent press trip to Japan, Panasonic officials gave journalists a peek into the company’s expansive recycling operations at the Matsushita Eco Technology Center (METEC) outside of Osaka.

METEC began operations in 2001 following enactment of Japan’s Home Appliance Recycling Law, which requires that large appliances—CRT TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, and air conditioners—be recycled as part of a joint effort among consumers, retailers and manufacturers. At the 415,000-square-foot facility, workers separate glass from CRT TVs, which is cleaned and sent to facilities overseas for reuse in CRT TVs.

In addition to providing an environmentally responsible method for discarding old electronics, the plant also serves as an income generator for Panasonic for recyclable materials. Additional recoverable materials include iron, aluminum, and copper. Last year, 378,000 tons of valuable materials were recovered at the plant, with copper delivering the highest return.

Of the 12 million CRTs collected as part of the program last year, METEC scored an 87 percent recycling rate, which reflects the weight of valuable materials recovered from the TVs divided by the total weight of waste. That’s significantly higher than the minimum requirements set forth by Japan’s recycling law, which specifies a minimum recycling rate of 55 percent for CRTs.

Consumers’ role in the ecycling efforts comes in the form of a nominal fee, paid at the point of recycling. Consumers pay roughly $27 per TV when they deliver a TV to retailers for collection. Retailers ship the products to some 40 collection centers throughout Japan.

In the U.S., recycling efforts are handled on a state by state basis, with some 14 states currently having regulations on the books. California’s law, the first to go into effect in 2003, requires that consumers pay an advance recycling fee at the time of purchase. Fees range from $6 to $10 depending on the size of the TV or monitor, with screens larger than 35in.incurring the maximum tariff. Other states impose a fee on manufacturers, who then internalize the cost in the price of the products.

Panasonic has been active in U.S. recycling efforts and joined forces with Sharp and Toshiba to create MRM, the Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Company. MRM works with states to coordinate recycling efforts according to each state’s laws and is open to other electronics manufacturers who wish to participate.

“State laws are growing increasingly difficult for individual manufacturers to deal with,” says David Thompson, president of MRM. “Through MRM we’re creating a platform for manufacturer collaborative action to address the growing requirements to collect and recycle old electronics products.”

MRM provides 75 drop-off points for electronics in Minnesota and handled more than a dozen events in the state during the first year of operation ending in June. In Minnesota, the ecycling law covers TVs, laptops, portable DVD players, and video display products but also allows manufacturers to count a number of other products such as DVD players, fax machines, VCRs, and printers toward overall goals, Thompson says. Overall electronics recycling goals are set based on sales of video display devices.

MRM is working with the state of Oregon on a similar program that will involve 21 manufacturers, Thompson says.

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