I got annoyed on the drive to work today, listening to NPR's Morning Edition program. The show was covering California's new display hardware tax and recycling program. I guess "coverage" always means looking for flaws, but this was silly.
Here's the facts: California is adding an electronics recycling fee, which retailers apply based on size of display, from $6 to $10 per display. This includes laptops, monitors and TVs.
Morning Edition added the factoid that California pays recyclers $0.48 per pound to process the displays, to chew them up and sorting the resulting bits into plastic, glass, etc. From this factoid and the fee rates, Morning Edition concluded that the tax would certainly not pay for disposal. They gave an example of a 53 lb monitor, which would be taxed at $10 at time of purchase but would cost $25.44 to recycle.
With the information provided so far in the program, I could see immediately several flaws in their argument. First, not all monitors are that heavy. People buy 5-10 pound laptops, pay $6 or $8 fee at purchase time, and those only cost $2.40 to $4.80 to dispose of. Second, there's time-value of money: the $10 paid for the 53 lb monitor is paid years before that monitor has to be recycled, and if the state saved that money it could accrue interest.
Even if you say that this year's recycle fee income should cover this year's disposal costs (rather than allocate the fee to one item over its life) it's entirely possible that the program does pay for display recycling. It works if people buy more lightweight displays (for which they overpay on the recycle fee) than heavy displays (for which they underpay). At the same time, it also works if people buy more displays per year than they dispose of -- also a reasonable possibility.
This kind of thing in the media bothers me more and more. It makes me think "How stupid do they think I am?"
Monday, January 31, 2005
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