Discarded electronic waste (e-waste) contains hazardous substances. When improperly handled, e-waste poses a threat to both the handler and the environment.
E-waste is often exported to developing countries where low-wage workers disassemble the equipment and scavenge usable components, contaminating themselves and the environment in the process. In an effort to stop this practice, 20 countries ratified the UN-sponsored Basel Convention in 1992. The goal was to restrict the export of e-waste to developing countries. While the US signed the Basel Convention, it never enacted legislation to ban e-waste exports.
Is this about to change? Is the US ready to meet the commitment it made when it signed the Basel Convention? Two recent developments indicate the country may be moving in that direction:
On November 15, 2010, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation on electronics recycling, announcing that the government was creating an Interagency Task Force "to prepare a national strategy for responsible electronics stewardship, including improvements to Federal procedures for managing electronic products." He added that he wanted "to ensure the Federal Government leads as a responsible consumer." The task force published its report on July 20, 2011. While it endorsed requiring federal government agencies to properly recycle e-waste, it stopped short of endorsing national e-waste export legislation.
In the absence of national e-waste legislation, 25 US states have gone ahead and enacted their own e-waste disposal laws. While states can regulate in-state practices, they are unable to regulate e-waste exports. That's why the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (HR 2284/S1270) was proposed in Congress in June.
The bill would create a new category of "restricted electronic waste" that is not allowed to be exported. Only fully functional equipment, products being sent back to a manufacturer for repairs, or products being recalled would be allowed to be exported. Companies supporting passage of the bill include HP, Dell, Samsung, Apple and Best Buy.
What do you think the chances are of Congress enacting legislation banning the export of e-waste? I recommend companies utilize recyclers that adhere to international best-practices and that agree not to export e-waste to developing countries. My company only uses e-steward certified recyclers. As a result, we have been recognized as an e-steward enterprise. I recommend your company do likewise.
More information on e-steward recyclers is available at e-stewards.org. Are you responsibly disposing of your e-waste?
While the effects of improper disposal or reclamation in other countries certainly do lead to health hazards, we cannot overlook the fact that this is a large part of the supply chain for counterfeit parts. Legislation for real disposal and not de-populating boards to be re-sold as new is needed.
@Kunmi: What is your thoughts on the e-waste ending in developing countries? Is the offshore recycling in these countries worth the community health risk to the general populace or the environmental contamination that is occuring in these countries?
Both the US EPA's R2 program (for recognizing and certifying e-waste recyclers) and the international e-stewards program are voluntary. They are tools for businesses to use in finding e-waste recyclers that pledge to follow best practices. In the absence of rules governing e-waste disposal, third party certifications are the only way for major companies to assure best practices are being followed (and to protect their reputations).
R2 vs. e-stewards will be a very interesting competition. I am seeing some of the larger recyclers being forced into both standards by larger (potential) clients. This is very expensive and time consuming, benefiting the registrars and the certifiers themselves mostly.
Why not have vetted, approved companies in OECD countries to export recyclables to?
BCD Electro is a 30 year old+ electronics recycling company with a focus on re-use.We are ISO 9001 and 14001 registered and follow strict legal and environmentally responsible recycling best practices.
Your quotation is perfect because it is an element and that is why when they recycle it, new elements can be created out of this waste. I want to agree with you that e-waste will turn out to be a migrain for the companies if nationally legislated.
I agree with your desire for more reuse. Actually a national export ban will enhance reuse. The problem now with shipping e-waste to developing countries with low cost labor and unregulated recycling has led to a phenomena known as backyard recycling. India in particular has a problem with organized crime controlling muc of the backyard recycling. Scrap computers are dismantled by cheap labor, components scavenged, and metal stripped with acid in backyard containers. The methods used are crude and not effficient (low hanging fruit removed). India has just enacted an e-waste law that will eventually result in regulating this industry. There are major high efficiency recyclers/reclaimers that are now operating in the USA thanks to state e-waste laws, and some now trying to set up in India thanks to their new law. A national e-waste export ban will enable businesses to efficienctly reclaim and reuse scrap electronics. For info on backyard recycling go to: http://www.element14.com/community/docs/DOC-22204/l/export-of-toxic-e-waste
There is no way the world can be saved of poison and toxins. Reading through some other comments, I realized that many are concerned about the effect of this toxic wastes if not federally regulated. It is clear to everyone that you can only reduce the effect but it can never be eliminated. You can consider how many lives are depending on the recycling for survival? What would be there hope if their source of living is taking away. If you are afraid of toxins you should not drink water, you should not breath in air neither attempt to eat any fruit. Your kitchen sink is the most dangerous and deadly arena for bacteria growth which in turn can give one enough toxin gosages if care is not taken. This idea of national legislation for e-waste must have come from one analyst who wants to be the next richest man of the world.
It does cost more to properly recycle e-waste. 25 states now have e-waste laws. In 24 states, manufacturers are required to takeback end-of-life electronics from customers (or pay into an industrial consortium that does that for them). One state, California, charges a tax on the purchase of new electronics and then uses the proceeds to operate a consumer takeback and disposal program.
One of the biggest issues facing everybody is there is now easy way to dispose of these items. If people have to go through multiple steps or take a lot of time to properly dispose of electronics and batteries, they would rather just throw them in the trash. There needs to be more recycling partners and stations set up that allow individuals and small businesses easy hassle free access so they don't feel burdened by recycling. Think about your recycling bins you put out with your trash for pick up, if the bins weren't there and nobody was picking it up would you still recycle and haul all of that stuff by yourself? Odds are against it.
This new version will expand coverage to all electrical and electronic equipment, require special marking of finished goods and more compliance documentation, and increase penalties for non-compliance.
EBN Dialogue enables and encourages you to participate in live chats with notable leaders and luminaries. Not only editors and journalists, but the entire EBN community is able to comment and ask questions. Listed below are upcoming and archived chats.
Thailand Stages a Comeback Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Microsoft Surface: Potential Winners & Losers What are the implications for the electronics industry supply chain of Microsoft Corp.'s decision to launch its own tablet PC? Join industry veteran and EE Times' systems and OEM expert Rick Merritt on Tuesday, July 3, at 12:00 pm EDT for a Live Chat on this subject.
Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
You've heard the saying "the No. 1 supply chain risk is your people." That hasn't always been the case. But today's complex global supply chain requires a new type of multitalented employee. It's one who understands, finance, marketing, economics, is savvy with technology, graceful with relationships and can think analytically.
Where are these people? Are universities properly preparing the next generation supply chain professionals? How do train your existing workforce for these new, demanding positions?
Brian Fuller, editor-in-chief of EBN, will lead a 60-minute Avnet Velocity panel discussion that will ask and answer these and other questions swirling around today's supply-chain talent challenges.