Capitol Steps The Push for Green
Chemical Bans and Restrictions
A number of New England states have proposed legislation to ban the use of mercury in electronic products in order to eliminate possible mercury releases during disposal. Certain electronic products, such as laptop computers and digital cameras, contain small mercury lamps that are highly energy-efficient. Ironically, the largest source of mercury emissions to the environment is coal-fired power plants and evidence has shown that mercury emissions in New England states are largely attributable to this source. Despite evidence suggesting that banning the use of mercury in electronics will produce negligible or no reduction in mercury emissions* (and actually may increase mercury emissions due to increased power usage), legislation has already been enacted in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine requiring electronic manufacturers to report the mercury content of their products. Bills to ban the industry's continued use of mercury are expected to be introduced early in 2002 in many New England states. These bills often contain consumer education requirements that manufacturers label their mercury-containing products. According to proponents, these provisions are intended to inform consumers about the presence of mercury and motivate consumers toward non-mercury alternatives. Some states have considered point-of-sale disclosure (e.g., shelf placards) as a consumer education option. Retailers may be required to inform consumers about the use of mercury in electronics through shelf placards or store personnel despite evidence that the information would not change consumer behavior or reduce mercury emissions.
The bills also specify that, if electronic manufacturers do not notify state environmental agencies regarding mercury-containing products sold in each state, retailers must refrain from selling those products. Although the bills lack enforcement provisions, retailers may find themselves in a public relations dilemma if mercury-containing products are sold without state notification.