After a series of false starts, Washington’s mercury-containing lights product stewardship law will take effect on January 1, 2015.
Under the law, all mercury-containing lights sold in the state of Washington must include a product stewardship fee to finance their environmental handling and recycling.
Producers, wholesalers and retailers are prohibited from selling mercury-containing lights for residential use unless the producer is a registered participant of an approved product stewardship plan. The product stewardship plans ensure that everyone involved in the lifecycle of a product—from manufacture to retail to use and disposal—shares the cost of product management.
The dispute over funding
As originally enacted in 2010, the law required that as of January 1, 2013, producers implement product stewardship plans and retailers sell only products from producers with plans.
However, a trade association representing the producers sued the state Department of Ecology, the agency tasked with implementing the law, because the law placed the burden of funding the programs on the producers. This litigation delayed approval of a product stewardship plan and enforcement of the retailer requirement.
On March 28, 2014, the Washington legislature passed a new bill revising the funding mechanism to require a per unit fee that is passed down through the supply chain. The bill requires that the producers propose the fee for DOE review and approval. This resolved the issues raised in the litigation and revised the implementation date to January 1, 2015.
PCA Product Stewardship, Inc., an operator of a mercury-containing light recycling program, developed an industry-wide product stewardship plan that the DOE recently approved that includes an environmental handling and recycling fee of $0.25/unit. It is the only approved plan at this time.
The plan covers 74 brands of mercury-containing lights. Per the new bill and the plan, producers incorporate the fees into the wholesale price, which is then passed through to the consumer at retail sale.
Retailers of mercury-containing lights in Washington may only sell products supplied by producers participating in the plan (or another approved plan, if one is submitted to DOE). The Department maintains a website that identifies producers and brands that have registered for the plan. Retailers must check this website or obtain written verification of participation from the producer.
Failure to comply
Failure to participate in a product stewardship plan is subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per day. Failure to implement the plan is subject to penalties of up to $10,000 per day.
Retailers selling or distributing mercury-containing lights from producers not participating in an approved plan are subject to penalties of up to $500 per day.
The Department has created several different guidance documents, each providing important information specific to particular members of the distribution chain, including:
The Department’s Mercury-Containing Lights Product Stewardship Program website requests that any questions be directed to Joanne Neugebauer-Rex at (360) 407-7602 or firstname.lastname@example.org.