‘Pay now, save later’ electronics recycling bill falters in Minnesota

On this Earth Day there’s a push to improve electronics recycling in Minnesota that seems to be hitting a wall. Supporters call it a "pay now, save later" approach.

When you recycle electronics, it would be free, but the catch is you’d pay a 3.2% recycling fee when you buy most electronics other than phones.

The endgame at Minnesota’s biggest electronics recycler — IRT in St. Cloud — is turning your old electronics into reusable parts, sorting out the plastic (sometimes just by recognizing colors), and melting the leftover aluminum, copper, steel, gold, silver, platinum and palladium for new use.

"We’re almost a complete zero waste facility," chief operating officer Dave Owens told FOX 9.

The 240,000 square foot warehouse could process almost 150 million pounds of electronics every year – more than the entire state of Minnesota generates.

For now, it’s doing about 40 million from all over North America.

Minnesota is recycling only about 20% of its electronics and even at popular recycling events, people are sometimes hit with sticker shock when they get to the end of the line and find out it’ll cost them.

"You find out that it's going to cost you $25, chances are you're just going to throw it into your trash," said Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL-St. Paul).

"If you put it in a trash and it doesn't get caught by the garbage company, it's going into a landfill," said Owens. "So it's your kid's problem. And then, you know, tomorrow problem."

There are today problems, too, including identity theft and the more explosive lithium battery fires.

Rep. Hollins authored a bill this year to move recycling costs to the front end of the transaction, adding a 3.2% fee at purchase and helping companies make recycling free.

At IRT, Owens says they’d fill empty space with new equipment and more than double their workforce.

Those plans are on hold for now, and Owens says the wait could be costly for taxpayers.

"We’re going to deal with this problem," Owens said. "It's just a matter of how big you want the problem to be before you deal with it."

The state’s current electronic waste law dates back to 2007, just before the first iPhone came out.

But this bill has stalled in the Senate, so an update will have to wait at least one more year.