OSAKA — Electrical appliance manufacturers announced earlier this month the fees they plan to charge consumers for recycling basic household appliances, beginning next April.

But while the move is in line with a new law that compels manufacturers to recycle four types of appliances — washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners and television sets — many observers point out that the success of the initiative hinges on the percentage of goods that is actually collected.

Under the legislation, manufacturers are obliged to collect and recycle the machines in an effort to encourage the reuse of parts and materials. Consumers will be required to shoulder part of the recycling cost.

Home appliance leader Matsushita Electric Corp. said last week that it would charge users 2,400 yen for a washing machine, 4,600 yen for a refrigerator, 3,500 yen for an air conditioner and 2,700 yen for a TV set.

Other major manufacturers have announced fees identical to Matsushita’s, despite having the freedom to set their own.

“Matsushita’s fees are the de facto benchmark, and it was impossible to set collection fees higher than those it announced,” admitted a senior official at one rival manufacturer.

Concerns that differences in recycling fees would also confuse consumers also helped lead to the uniform cost, observers said.

Meanwhile, major appliance retailers say they have no way of predicting what the effects of the new law on their business might be, noting that some retailers may try to slash the prices of the appliances to offset the collection fee.

The appliance makers have split into two camps — that comprising Matsushita and Toshiba Corp. and the group that includes Hitachi Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Sanyo Electric Co., Sony Corp. and Sharp Corp.

While the Matsushita-Toshiba alliance plans to use established recycling firms in their collection drive, the other firms have set up their own appliance recycling business.

The manufacturers will have roughly 190 designated pick-up points nationwide that will accept used appliances collected by local governments and retailers.

The appliances will then be transported to recycling facilities where metals and plastics will be removed for reuse in other products.

Appliance manufacturers say their main concern is with the level of consumer cooperation they are likely to encounter, while officials at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry say they have “no idea” how great or small the collection figure might be.

Industry sources say the figure might be as low as 30 percent. If the figure falls below expectations, manufacturers may be forced to hike their collection fees to keep their recycling facilities in operation.

This, in turn, could trigger a rise in the illegal dumping or export of used appliances, observers say.

Specifics, such as how the fees will be collected, are still under review but industry officials stress that the key issue is how swiftly and effectively consumers and retailers accept the new law.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.