Electronics is the fastest growing waste stream in the United States. Many companies tout their recycling efforts, but these often consist primarily of recovering the parts to melt down, resell, or reuse. Recycling advocates such as eSCO CEO Dewayne Burns believe loopholes in government policies discourage the ability to manage the waste stream responsibly.
Each eSCO employee processes 2,000 pounds of electronic waste daily, equivalent to 500,000 pounds of electronic waste per employee per year, Burns said during a recent media conference call hosted by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. He, along with others on the call, believe a bill making its way through the US Congress and Senate will create jobs in the country, one feature of the bill advocates continue to push.
US Representatives Gene Green (D-TX) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) last week introduced legislation in the House of Representatives -- the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act -- to stop US recyclers from dumping electronic waste in developing countries and to promote recycling jobs at home.
Ideally, the bill would create "green" jobs for workers in the United States by putting standards in place to monitor recycling efforts, said Green. The bill is supported by environmental groups, as well as electronic manufacturers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Apple, and retail stores such as Best Buy. It also has bipartisan support, including sponsor Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and Lee Terry (R-NE).
The bill addresses toxic exposures caused by e-waste dumping and establishes a new category of restricted electronic waste that cannot be exported from the US to countries such as China, India, Nigeria, and Ghana.
During the press conference referenced above, Thompson, a contributor to the bill, described how an "overwhelming majority" of the population in some developing countries suffer from respiratory problems because recyclers use open-pit burning methods to remove the plastic and extract valuable components. He also talked about the use of child labor, which exposes kids to dangerous chemicals.
The bill supports exemptions, however, for exporting products under warranty being returned to the manufacturer for repairs, products, or parts being recalled, and for crushed cathode ray tube glass cullet cleaned and fully prepared as feedstock into CRT glass manufacturing facilities.
When asked if the bill would result in higher product costs to consumers, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Ashley Watson said knowing the processing to end the life of a product could save costs. While I'm not sold on that response, I do believe the US needs consistent standards.
Twenty-five states have passed e-waste recycling legislation but do not ban e-waste exports. Consequently, lead from e-waste ends up in kids' jewelry imported from China. Computer chips sent for recycling in China get into the hands of counterfeiters and end up in the US military supply chain, according to Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Exporting waste also exports the jobs, she said.