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Any Chance for National E-Waste Legislation?

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?

21 comments on “Any Chance for National E-Waste Legislation?

  1. Houngbo_Hospice
    August 23, 2011

    According to this article, “65% of the population of the U.S. is now covered by a state e-waste recycling law.” That is a pretty good figure, and hopefully a national legislation won't be that far away.

  2. hwong
    August 23, 2011

    Currently it is really not convenient to handle old electronics such as computers and monitors. People would have to go through several steps in order to recycle or dump. If the legislation can make things more easier and without using too much people's tax money, then this nationa e-waste initiative will be very helpful to environment

  3. rohscompliant
    August 23, 2011

    Oh great more legislation to hinder growth….just what we need….but on the bright side it will create more non producing non product jobs in an ever expanding bureaucracy…….let the states handle it state by state………keep the feds out!

  4. janelle urchenko
    August 23, 2011

    The majority of recycling facilities currently in North America are small and underequipped.  As long as we continue to have a disposable mindset and design regularly for obsolescence, we'll need a large-scale solution on this continent.  After-market services continue to be a great opportunity for the entire electronics industry; sending the poorest nations thousands of tonnes of toxic waste is certainly not representative of leading environmental stewardship.  Perhaps a federal mandate can help change that.

  5. knutsonp
    August 23, 2011

    A principal reason the United States has such a pathetic presence in the consumer electronics industry is that regulations and bureaucracy have made it easier to manufacture somewhere else.  The last thing the electronics industry needs is more regulations.  If a company is irresponsible, the marketplace will villify it — and businesses can compete in terms of environmental stewardship.  NEVER flippantly say “there ought to be a law against that” without serious consideration of ALL the consequences. 

  6. Taimoor Zubar
    August 23, 2011

    Selling e-waste to developing countries is a very profitable option for companies. Not only do they get rid of their waste easily, they also end up making a small amount of money on it. Recycling of electronic components and disposal management will certainly involve more costs. How do you think the laws will cater to that? I believe if the government has to promote recycling, they need to start providing incentives to the manufacturers as opposed to merely banning the exports.

  7. AnalyzeThis
    August 23, 2011

    @TaimoorZ, good post, and I agree… more needs to be done than merely banning exports.

    That being said, to answer the question… no, I don't think there's much chance of National E-Waste Legislation. Especially in this current environment (no pun intended).

    I think the proposed legislation will die with little fanfare. It's not a hot-button issue whatsoever and the mainstream audience who has little knowledge of e-waste either does not care whatsoever about the problems or has no concerns with dumping our “garbage” in foreign lands. Better there than here, right?

  8. tfcsd
    August 23, 2011

    All I know is the more regulations on recycling, the more reuse is likely not to happen and could even hinder the US economy. I own a 1991 car and many times the only place to obtain parts is the auto junk yard. The same is true with my 2007 computer. Many stores no longer sell some of the older parts and recyclers will not allow reuse because of regulations. Until I get this older part, there is no reason to spend money today upgrading this computer with other new parts and software. So, I will use it as is and until I have a job, I must again put off buying a new computer for a few more years.

  9. William K.
    August 23, 2011

    First off, as long as the folks that we sell it to don't use it to make weapons to attack us, what in the world is wrong with selling our trash to those willing to paY? 

    But, the solution to the recycling of assorted E-Waste would be the same as the solution for discrded soft drink bottles was in Michigan: Charge a deposit when the product is purchased! A $50 deposit on every phone, music stick, TV, e-book, CD or DVD player, and personal computer, plus whatever other items I did not think of, would assure that at the end of life they would be disposed of responsibly. IT almost eliminated a whole class of litter in Michigan, the same concept should work very well to reduce the mountains of irresponsibly discarded electronics. 

    In fact, it may be that if this idea can be spread to the EU countries, we may be able to avoid that RoHS boondoggle, or at least scale it down a bit. Of course, it will need to be a national effort for it to work.

  10. aaronpeter
    August 23, 2011

    Whether we regulate it here or not really isn't the question as there always seem to be loopholes built into any system.

    It would be a good sign of faith for the US to pass legislation on this and hope on board with our European counterparts, but until we bring countries like India and China into the fold it won't matter too much.

    The reason legislation would be important is due to the fact that most of the e-waste (along with recycling) is not disposed of properly. When it is shipped to other countries it is usually disgarded in an improper manner exposing the handler and the community to much worse toxins than if it were just thrown into a landfill.

    Many of the chemiclas would sit inhert in their form in microprocessors and monitors, but once they are exposed to heat the chemicals are free to be released into the local atmosphere.

    While I don't believe national legislation should be pushed for regulating the whole e-waste complex, I do believe a national mandate should be ordered for individual states to at least have some sort of plan.

    I believe there is too little state-to-state positive communication going on. The reason national legislation is usually the “answer” is because it creates less work and legislation for interstate commerce. With each state having their own individual rules and regulations there would be less of a draw for business to work beyond their boundary.

    If, however, states worked with each other to create local guidelines and regulations we could be using government more effectively without getting the national scene involved.

  11. Daniel
    August 24, 2011

    E waste is a major issue with most of the electronic companies. When expose to environment, it can create more environmental problems and threat to living beings.

    Ken, am eager to know during and after recycling process. What happens to these substances especially the most dangerous elements like lead, carbon, mercury etc? As per Einstein’s law “energy/substances can be neither created nor destroyed; only it can be converted from one form to another”.

  12. jbond
    August 24, 2011

    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.

  13. Kevin Jackson
    August 24, 2011

    With all these grand plans and desires to save the world from poisons what are you doing to the people that rely on recycling to survive?

    What are your plans to feed and house the poor peoples that rely on the “bad” recycling to live?

    What are your plans to keep the children of the “bad” recyclers alive once you take, what is often their only possible source of income?

    Most of these people don't live in places that provide free food and shelter for the poor.

    If you don't address this issue you are cruel people with evil plans.

    Shame on you.

  14. kmanchen
    August 24, 2011

    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.

  15. Kunmi
    August 24, 2011

    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.

  16. kmanchen
    August 24, 2011

    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

  17. Kunmi
    August 24, 2011

    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.

  18. HarrisBo
    August 25, 2011

    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. 

    bharris@bcdelectro.com

  19. kmanchen
    August 25, 2011

    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).

  20. Ms. Daisy
    August 25, 2011

    @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?

  21. Redding McLemore
    August 26, 2011

    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. 

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