Paper Title (use style: paper title) - Electronics Recycling

The Role of Brand Information in State

Financing Systems in the United States

Jason Linnell, Heather Smith

National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) Davisville, WV USA



Walter Alcorn

Alcorn Consulting

Reston, VA USA


Abstract—This paper explores the use of brand markings as the basis for assigning manufacturer responsibility in electronics recycling systems in the United States. The research reviews branding history and practices in the electronics industry and recommends actions to record brands more accurately in the future.

Keywords-brands, electronics recycling policy,infrastructure


The use of brands as a primary means to identify the manufacturer predates the invention of electronic products. The rising use of brands on manufactured products coincided with the coming of the advertising industry after the U.S. Civil War, and has been closely associated with advertising and other strategic customer interactions ever since [1]. Today, corporations perceive their brands as valuable commodities, in some cases more valuable than the products or services that the company sells.

Brand names and licensing arrangements have assumed a completely new role as a result of new electronics recycling legislation in the United States. Between 2003 and 2006, 4 states (California, Maine, Maryland and Washington) have enacted mandatory electronics recycling financing legislation that utilize brand names in one form or another, to a greater or lesser extent. In two of these states the brand marking on an electronic product has become the primary means of assigning financial responsibility for recycling costs.

This alternative use of brands outside of their traditional marketing role raises a number of interesting issues explored in this paper including the effects of the changing nature of brand-manufacturer relationships, the level of administration needed for brand counting and data management, and the ability to find the “correct” brand for purposes of financial responsibility.

This research was funded by grants from the MARCEE project (Department of Energy – National Energy Technology Laboratory and West Virginia University), and the National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse (Consumer Electronics Association). The views and findings herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsoring organizations.

Many of these issues were not explored in detail prior to the enactment of the recycling programs, and therefore state officials often find themselves making decisions without clear statutory guidance or program precedence. This paper explores the history of brands and brand licensing, discusses the use of brand information in current electronics recycling programs, and illustrates a few case studies of brands associated differently across state programs. For the purposes of this paper, the scope of products included in the discussion of “electronics” only includes those currently covered by any of the mandatory state programs: televisions, desktop computers, laptop computers, and computer monitors.

Brand Definitions and History

The Oxford Dictionary of Business and Management defines a brand as "a name, sign or symbol used to identify items or services of the seller(s) and to differentiate them from goods of competitors [2]." Companies use brands to create associations and expectations for a certain product or service. For most products and services, the brand is key to a marketing strategy that targets a particular segment of purchasers. In fact, brands have become such a valuable communication tool in marketing that the term “brand equity” has been developed to describe the value that a brand brings to a product [3]. More recently, companies have begun creative licensing arrangements to build on the brand equity from one product category to another via “brand extensions [4].” In these instances, a company (the “licensor”) may license its brand to another company which then appears on that company’s new product (the “licensee” company). Sometimes a brand licensee will use the brand for a product not previously associated with the brand. Several examples of successful brands extending into electronic equipment are found on the lists of currently registered brands in Maine and Washington, such as Disney and Westinghouse.

According to the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association, brand licensing is the practice of “leasing the right to use a legally protected name, graphic, logo, saying or likeness in conjunction with a product, promotion, or service.[1]” Brand licensing is a common practice in the electronics industry today, especially for traditional consumer electronic devices such as televisions, radios, and other video equipment. According to interviews with several electronics industry veterans, brand licensing is less common in the newer industry sector of Information Technology products such as desktop computers and monitors. This appears to contribute to differences in electronics recycling financing policy positions advocated by various segments of the broader electronics manufacturing industry.

Specifically within the television manufacturing industry, licensing of brands is as common – if not more so – than outright sale as companies enter and exit the television manufacturing business. For example, the brand RCA is owned by the Thomson company but has been licensed to TTE (a separate joint venture majority-owned by China’s TCL Group and minority-owned by Thomson) since 2004 when Thomson sold TTE its television manufacturing business. Thomson thus owns the rights to the RCA brand intellectual property and receives royalty payments for the use the RCA brand on new televisions, but otherwise is not directly involved in the design, production or sales of new RCA televisions.

Another branding practice in the electronics industry with potential implications for brand-based producer responsibility systems is the use of secondary brands. These brands contain markings, symbols or other words that denote a different product line or set of features. Secondary brands are used most prominently in the computer industry. This becomes important when a product is returned for recycling and the brand recorder must decide which marking is most appropriate to record as the brand. Table I gives several examples of secondary brands used on desktop and laptop computers. In every instance, the primary brand is still present on the product, but the secondary brand denotes the customer segment for which the particular model was designed.

Primary and Secondary Computer Industry Brands





Note that the term “secondary brand” is a different practice than the common practice of product component branding where the brand is unrelated to the producer of the unit as a whole. For example, many CD/DVD drives included in desktop computers appear with the brand of the CD/DVD maker prominently displayed on the drive. In this situation the “other” brand clearly visible on the product is limited to a single component and is independent of the overall unit brand. The most widely-recognized example of component branding is the use of “Intel Inside” markings on desktop and laptop computers to denote the processor brand, not the brand of the overall computer.

Use of Brands in Legislated US Recycling Systems

The authors examined programs of each of the three states employing versions of producer responsibility electronics recycling systems as of mid-February, 2007. While Maine, Maryland and Washington State all use brand names as a mechanism for tracking and/or allocating financial responsibility, different definitions and regulatory interpretations have resulted in a company being financially responsible for a brand in one state’s program but not in another.

In producer responsibility systems the manufacturer or producer is responsible for financing all or part of the costs associated with the product’s recycling and disposal. Often, but not always, financial responsibility is based on a company’s share of the waste stream. These ‘return shares’ for individual companies are commonly determined by counting or sampling brands returned in the collection systems followed by assignment by regulatory authorities of those brands to the responsible company[2].

Because of the complex business and brand licensing arrangements between current and historical manufacturers, contract manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, identifying the actual producer (or manufacturer) from inspecting the product can be difficult and is sometimes not possible. Brand identification, however, utilizes information that is usually observable and therefore requires significantly less research and analysis to implement and track. But with some governments now mandating producer recycling responsibility based on returns, and the brand being the most obvious means to track returned products back to a producer, the effort to build a trusted and desirable brand now unintentionally leads to future costs for that producer when that product is finally returned for recycling.

1 Brand Identification and Recording

The capture and recordation of brand information is a seemingly simple task. The basic approach is to search the front of the product and record the name as it plainly appears to the human eye. For a majority of returned products this is sufficient to achieve an accurate brand count. However, the NCER has identified several common errors in this approach that could potentially lead to error rates of 10% or higher.

First, data entry errors can and do occur. Since the use of bar code scanning or radio-frequency ID tags is not currently an option for brand recording,[3] this process is dependent on a trained and observant person being able to identify the correct brand and enter it into the appropriate data management system. Depending on the location and specific circumstances of the brand count, there may be difficulty in keeping up with the flow of products being collected (i.e. if counting is done at a collection location). And in some cases, it may not be possible to view all sides of a product (i.e. if counting is done at a recycling facility after bundling of units on pallets at a collection site), which can prevent a brand recorder from seeing the appropriate brand marking.

Second, there are several circumstances where the actual brand of the product may not be identifiable or obvious. For example, as described above, for many years some companies have visibly ‘branded’ different technologies which were then used as components in the manufacture of branded electronic products. These branded technologies should not be identified as producers of the final, complete product, but have been recorded as such in several brand counting studies reviewed by the NCER. Sony’s ‘Trinitron’ brand is a good example. The Trinitron technology has been licensed to other manufacturers for use in their branded products, and therefore may appear on the front or elsewhere on televisions that use the Trinitron technology. Thus Sony would not be held responsible for all products bearing the Trinitron label unless the “Sony” brand was also observed on that unit.

Third, the NCER has identified examples of a single brand spelled in numerous ways, sometimes clearly incorrectly, in various brand counting studies. For example, the JC Penny brand has alternatively been spelled J.C. Penney, J C Penney, and JCPenney across brand counting studies consolidated by the NCER.[4] Many of these spelling variations can be corrected with confidence. However, an element of caution should be used when doing this as there are also different brands from different producers that are spelled nearly identically but should NOT be misinterpreted as spelling errors. A good example is the one-letter difference between “Proton” and “Protron.” In Maine, the brand “Proton” is claimed by Proton USA, but the brand “Protron” is claimed by a different manufacturer – Protron Digital Corporation. These and other examples show us why there is an inevitable amount of human error present in the manual recording of brands.

Another source of uncertainty in the brand recording process is the presence of unbranded products. As discussed in our previous research, a major source of unbranded products is the “white box” segment of the electronics manufacturing industry:

For many years, white box companies have represented a significant portion of computer market. Many estimates place white box sales in the 25-35% range for desktops, and just under 10% for laptops Because the brand is not the main selling point for these systems, these builders would many times use off-the-shelf components and computer housings without a brand label – hence the name “white box.”[T]his presents a problem for electronics recycling systems in that a brand label provides a basis for assigning responsibility, and without it, these products could be misclassified as orphans [5].

Unbranded products are thus most common for desktop computers currently entering recycling programs. The potential impact of these white box products on manufacturer return shares can be seen in brand recording data. In 2006, the authors conducted brand counts at eight electronics collection events in West Virginia. Of the 1195 desktop units for which brands were recorded, 248, or 20.7% were unbranded. White box manufacturers do sometimes place their own brand on the product, which was also borne out in the data from the WV program. Of the 157 total desktop brands recorded in the WV events, 55, or 35% were brands that had not previously been recorded in other brand count studies in other parts of the country[5].

2 Correlating Observed Brands to a Manufacturer

After gathering brand data, an additional step must be taken to connect the observed brands to a specific manufacturer. Several brands can be determined to be the responsibility of a single manufacturer, and in the Maine system one brand may have two or more manufacturers claiming responsibility based on the type of covered product, specific brand quirk or other distinguishable brand or product characteristic.

This secondary process to link brands with manufacturers is arguably an inherently governmental function. Although the brand-manufacturer link is often unambiguous (e.g., the “Dell” brand is the responsibility of the Dell Computer Corporation), this paper provides numerous examples of the need to interpret statutory and regulatory requirements before a company could be held financially responsible. These determinations are critical to the affected companies as they amount to an additional cost that each manufacturer must bear. Disputes arising over the ownership or liability of brands are inevitable. Many of the thousands of observed brands now in circulation[6] will have no claiming or identifiable manufacturer, and the responsibility for determining whether to bring enforcement action against a potentially responsible producer, to continue searching for a manufacturer or to write off the brand as truly orphan is generally placed by statute with the relevant state environmental agency.

3 Maine’s Approach

The Maine program covers TVs, computer monitors and laptop computers under a law passed in 2004. Under Maine’s approach the funding for the system is shared between product manufacturers and local governments. Local governments collect from Maine households (waste electronics generated by businesses are not covered), and deliver the collected products to a state-approved “consolidator.” These consolidators count all returned units by brand and tally the number of brands from each manufacturer, and then send each manufacturer a bill for the amount that their brands represent plus an additional amount for orphan products (if applicable, see below).

The Maine DEP has compiled a list of brand names recorded by consolidators and/or appearing on products sold on the market today. For brands appearing on this list that have not been claimed, the DEP investigates whether the brand is indeed owned by a current company, an “orphan” whose original manufacturer is no longer in business and no successor exists, or a misidentified “brand” that was improperly recorded (as in the “Trinitron” brand example discussed above).

In Maine there is no attempt to distinguish the brand licensor from the brand licensee; anyone is allowed to claim responsibility for all or some discreet fraction of returns for any given brand. Based on a review of data provided by the Maine DEP, this brand “claiming” process has resulted in several manufacturers making partial claims for returned brands such as:

• Thomson, Inc. USA has claimed responsibility for RCA whenever the product also has a label (on the back of the product) stating that the manufacturer was Thomson, while TTE claims responsibility for RCA products showing TTE as the manufacturer; GE has claimed responsibility for all other RCA returns.

• Epson America, Inc. has claimed responsibility for Apex monitors only, but not Apex televisions

• Motorola has claimed the brand “Quasar by Motorola” but plain “Quasar” is claimed by Panasonic

These and other “quirks” specific to approximately 150 other brands appearing on returned TVs or monitors are compiled and maintained by the Maine DEP for use by Maine-approved consolidators who do the actual brand recording and manufacturer invoicing. Many of these “quirks” relate to additional information required for billing (e.g., actual manufacturer required on the back of the unit) and brands claimed by type of unit (e.g., TVs only).

The administrative burden for program cost allocation and revenue collection is shared between the Maine DEP and approved consolidators. The DEP determines which companies are responsible for which brands and the orphan pro rata share is distributed across all responsible manufacturers with return shares greater than 1%. For the 2007 program year, 31 manufacturers exceeded this return share threshold and are therefore responsible for paying the costs of orphan products. The DEP is also responsible for enforcement against non-compliant manufacturers.

Prior to implementation of the Maine program it was unclear how effectively a state government could compel out-of-state and foreign manufacturers to assume financial responsibility for a state-specific program. To date Maine has not encountered significant difficulties enforcing financial responsibilities based upon their determinations of brand-manufacturer relationships, even though responsible entities are usually located in other states or outside the U.S.

Given the relative youth of Maine’s program (started in January 2006), the extent of any impact on the program from changes in brand ownership arrangements over time is unknown. Most likely newly responsible corporations would notify the Maine DEP of new arrangements and consolidators would be notified of new recipients of consolidator invoices. It is also not clear how consolidators actually performing the brand counts will manage the increasing complexity of finer distinctions within brands (see “quirks” discussion above) as more changes in brand ownership arrangements are effected over time.

Maine no longer allows the sale of a covered device unless a visible, permanent label clearly identifying a brand claimed by a manufacturer of that device is affixed to it. This labeling requirement also applies to desktop computers even though manufacturers are not currently responsible for funding the recycling of these products. Although the authors have not investigated how rigorously this labeling requirement is being enforced, such requirements are expected to reduce the number of unbranded covered devices entering the recycling system over the next 10-20 years.

4 Washington’s Approach

Washington State, like Maine, has a law that requires manufacturers to finance the recycling of their products when they are returned, and thus requires brand, manufacturer, and (implicitly) orphan identification. Unlike Maine – which operates under an open brand claiming system – Washington State has begun implementation of their responsible producer identification system based on the legal owner of the brand name. In their regulations Washington defines brand as “a name used to identify an electronic product in the consumer marketplace which attributes the electronic product to the owner of the name as the manufacturer.[7]” In a response to comments from television manufacturers about the effect of proposed regulations on the Sylvania brand being manufactured by Funai, the Washington Department of Ecology responded with the following illustration:

Sylvania is the company with ownership over the brand name, and therefore under chapter 70.95N RCW is the manufacturer. The Washington Legislature defined manufacturer this way because the brand owner stays more constant over time and the company that may actually build the products may change. So for example, Funai has not always made products with the Sylvania brand and may not do so in the future. The owner of the Sylvania brand is more constant over time[8].

The Washington State approach is expected to have a lesser degree of administrative complexity compared to Maine, but it also raises questions about the meaning of the term “producer” in “producer responsibility.” A more accurate but perhaps less appealing description of this approach towards brand-manufacturer linkages might be “brand owner responsibility.”

5 Examples of Brands Claimed by Different Manufacturers in Different States

Due to the varying definitions of brands and manufacturers across these state programs, and different interpretations of similar statutory language, there are already examples of brands with differing claims across Maine, Maryland and Washington State. As of January 2007, the NCER found 18 brands that were registered by varying manufacturers across the three state-mandated electronics recycling programs dealing with manufacturer responsibility. Several examples of the conflicting claim/registration data are displayed in Table II.

The “Disney” brand is a good example of disparate claim/registration data across state lines. Maine’s program indicates MemCorp, Inc. is the responsible or “claimed” manufacturer of the Disney brand, whereas Washington’s registration data indicates Disney Consumer Products, Inc. is the responsible or “registered” manufacturer of the Disney brand. MemCorp, a privately held corporation, traditionally manufacturers and distributes Memorex consumer electronics. However, in 2005 Disney Consumer Products began selling a new line of kid-friendly Disney branded products manufactured by MemCorp[9]. It is cases such as this that clearly display how each individual state’s definition of a “manufacturer” can cause brand ownership to vary from state to state.

Another good example of disparate claim/registration data is the brand “Elite”. Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc. is the registered manufacturer of Elite branded televisions and monitors in the state of Washington. However, the Maine DEP has determined Elite branded monitors are orphans. In a press release from September of 2005, Pioneer Electronics touts the 20th Anniversary of Elite products, which points to their ownership of the Elite brand for more than 20 years[10].

Finally the brands Emerson and Nexxtech point to an interesting situation. In Washington, both Emerson and Nexxtech laptop computers are registered by Petters Group Worldwide, a private company with investments in over 60 companies. Petters Consumer Brands, a wholly owned subsidiary of Petters Group Worldwide, most recently became known for the acquisition of Polaroid Holding Company in 2005. At the time of acquisition, Petters Group was already a successful licensee of the Polaroid brand[11]. Unlike in Washington, Emerson laptops in Maine do not currently have a claim status at all, but Emerson monitors and televisions do – both are claimed by manufacturer Funai. In addition, Nexxtech laptops in Maine are currently claimed by Circuit City Stores, Inc. - not Petters Group Worldwide as in Washington. Circuit City also claims Nexxtech monitors, portable DVD players and televisions in Maine, none of which have been registered in the state of Washington as of mid-February, 2007.

6 Other State Approaches

California has a law that creates an advanced recycling fee of $6, $8, or $10 that is paid by the consumer at the point of sale. The California law has no specific provisions for brand identification or manufacturer claiming of brands due to the fact that funds collected for recycling are utilized for all returned covered electronic devices regardless of the original producer. However, one provision requires all covered products to have a brand label. California collects a limited amount of manufacturer data to confirm recycler claims for covered electronic waste from non-CRT products.

The Maryland law was passed in 2005 and it sets up a five-year pilot program for recycling desktop computers, laptops, and computer monitors (but not televisions). Under the program, manufacturers of these products must register with the State and pay an annual $5000 fee (or $500 with a takeback program). There is no provision or need to identify brands or orphan products under this system. However, manufacturers do submit a list of their brands along with their annual registration to the State Department of the Environment. Like California and Maine, manufacturers of covered products are required to label the product with the manufacturer’s name or the manufacturer’s brand label.

Brands Registered by Different Manufacturers




| | |(LAPTOP) | |


| | |PRODUCTS, INC. (TV)| |


| |NOT BY PIONEER |(USA), INC. (TV & | |








| | | |(ENTIRE SCOPE) |




| |(TV/DVD/VCR COMBO | | |

| |UNITS ONLY) | | |




| |PORTABLE DVD, TV) | | |



| |ON CORP US INC (TV | | |

| |ONLY) | | |


| |(MONITOR AND TV) & |ONLY) | |


| |(TV ONLY) & TTE | | |


| |ONLY) | | |



| |(MONITOR) | | |


| | |(TV ONLY) | |


In conducting the research for this paper, the NCER has developed the following list of conclusions and recommendations.

1 Brand Data Still Limited and Not Representative

Tracking brands and brand responsibilities for all historic/returned products is a challenge as this information is not readily available for all brands. Improved brand/producer identification procedures are required to bring producers of smaller quantities of products into financing systems similar to Maine’s and Washington’s. In the US, data on which to base brand return share and orphan share are limited in both quantity and geographic coverage. These limited data suggest that regional variations in product returns for individual brands may be commonplace [5]. Thus, small changes in source data and the methodology for developing a particular brand’s return share can produce significant variations in a manufacturers’ financial responsibility in return-share based electronics recycling systems.

2 Inconsistent Definitions of “Brand,” “Manufacturer,” and “Covered Product”Hold No Benefits

Efforts by individual states to find companies responsible for producing specific brands are widely duplicated across state administrations. The authors have found no inherent social, environmental or economic value in multiple states creating brand-manufacturer linkages on parallel paths. Short of a national system, states should normalize statutory and regulatory definitions of brands, manufacturers and their linkages and jointly implement this and other technical elements of their electronics recycling programs to reduce the growing enforcement and compliance challenges that are becoming more complex as greater numbers of states pass producer responsibility requirements.

Further complicating this issue is the inconsistent definition of “covered products” across the state programs. No two states currently cover the same set of electronic devices in their program when taking into consideration the scope of covered entities (households only, households and small businesses, all consumers and organizations, etc). This leads to difficulties in comparing manufacturer responsibilities across state programs due to the varying products covered. While political factors during the legislative process have likely created these inconsistencies, the complexity of brand licensing arrangements demonstrates the need for one harmonized set of definitions on which to base determinations of compliance.

3 Recyclers and Other Organizations Need More Expertise in Brand Counting Methodology

The implications of brand counting and producer responsibility do not stop at the manufacturer. In the US and globally, governments are pushing to separate end-of-life electronics from the municipal solid waste stream, and use non-government revenue to pay for their recycling. In the near future, those companies in the recycling industry who wish to handle used electronics for recycling may need to add brand counting or even physical sorting to their capabilities. Those who can record this information and carry out these functions in the most accurate manner at the least cost will be the ones manufacturers and governments seek out to fulfill their obligations. To date, very few recyclers have participated in brand recording pilot programs, and even fewer have trained staff familiar with the many common errors associated with brand recording. In 2006, the NCER released its Brand Recording Best Management Practices[12] as a first step in minimizing common errors that occur with brand counting.

4 Brand Claims/Registrations Need Regular Tracking

The producer responsibility systems in the US that rely on brand information for allocating costs are very new. Thus, it still remains to be seen whether they will be able to adapt to new and even more complex brand licensing and ownership arrangements in the future. The authors are not aware of any central registry in the US for brand licensing information; often this is proprietary business information. Some state programs rely on an annual determination of manufacturer responsibility, which could lag developments in brand ownership transfers or company bankruptcies. Therefore, regular tracking of this type of information is required and companies should make changes in brand ownership and licensing arrangements readily available to the state waste regulators in need of this information.

The use of brands as the primary means to allocate costs in mandated producer recycling systems opens a new chapter on this history of brands. Without major changes in statutory and administrative processes, these systems face potentially increasing complexity in administering these systems as brand histories and manufacturer relationships grow and change over time.


1] Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920 (John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Duke University)

2] J. Pallister, and J. Daintith, A Dictionary of Business and Management, Oxford University Press, USA; 4th edition (June 1, 2006).

3] S. Broniarczyk, and J. Alba, “The Importance of the Brand in Brand Extension”, Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 31, No. 2, Special Issue on Brand Management (May, 1994), pp. 214-228.

4] D. Smith, and C. Park, “The Effects of Brand Extensions on Market Share and Advertising Efficiency,” Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Aug., 1992), pp. 296-313.

5] J. Linnell, W. Alcorn, T. Linger, S. Smith, “Understanding and Examining the Impacts of Orphan Products and ‘White Box’ Products on Emerging Electronics Recycling Systems” 2006 International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment



Using market share as an alternative approach for dividing the costs of the recycling system is currently being debated in several state legislatures as a result of model legislation produced by the Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Council and a group of Midwestern state governments. This approach would eliminate the need to count or sample returned brands in recycling systems, but would require a tracking and/or reporting system for sales of each manufacturer’s brands on a state level. This paper does not explore brand-related issues in financing systems based on market share.

While the use of these technologies hold the promise of making brand recording a much simpler and more accurate process, it will take many years before this technique can be incorporated. Returned electronics, particularly from households, can be 5-25 years old before hitting the waste stream.

See bdms

See: bdms

Although the NCER’s Brand Data Management System (BDMS) contains approximately 1,500 unique brands, it draws from only 5 brand counting studies conducted in 5 parts of the United States. Estimates from representatives of white box manufacturers suggest informally that there may be more than 3,000 different brands used by the white box industry during the past decade alone.


From “Concise Explanatory Statement and Responsiveness Summary for the Adoption of Chapter 173-900 WAC, Electronic Products Recycling Program,” October 30, 2006, Publication: 06-07-030, p. 35.

See: for additional details about these Disney branded products manufactured by MemCorp.

See: .




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