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E-Waste Export Bill Seeks to Boost US Jobs

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, {complink 2376|Hewlett-Packard Co.} 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.

18 comments on “E-Waste Export Bill Seeks to Boost US Jobs

  1. Nemos
    June 27, 2011

    “to stop US recyclers from dumping electronic waste in developing countries and to promote recycling jobs at home” If this happened we will have an important move towards to the contributive recycling.

    This bill seems to have  “Green” orientation and it is very important and welcome that it is supported by environmental groups, and by electronic manufacturers.

     

  2. Anna Young
    June 27, 2011

    I understand the move and need to pass e.waste bill and I am delighted this was done.. However,how will this create further jobs,when a complete ban is not placed on e.waste export by 25 states in America?

    This is NIMBYSM (not in my back yard) at play. Obviously it is expensive to recycle in the USA or Europe for that matter, but cost less to dump or sent elsewhere.

    If this is intended to create jobs, then it would great to see another bill passed addressing a ban on exporting e.waste too.

  3. Laurie Sullivan
    June 27, 2011

    Hello Anna, 

    Thanks for the post. The “green” bill would ban the export of materials and create jobs in the United States by forcing companies to set up recycling centers in the U.S. and teach U.S. workers how to safely dispose of recycle the materials. 

    Best, 

    Laurie

  4. Daniel
    June 28, 2011

    Laurie, we know that e-waste is a big problem for most of the companies and countries. Handling toxic substances like mercury, lead etc can cause serious health related problems to employees too. I think recycling may not be a right solution because after recycling again it’s going to emit toxic gases and its not environmental friendly. In such situations, we have find out some alternate solutions, which are very ecco friendly.

  5. jbond
    June 28, 2011

    The bill being proposed in Congress would be a great thing for the world environment. With more recycling centers opened and creating jobs maybe more of the population will favor recycling. It would seem that for the U.S. to setup these facilities and make them work to our benefit the federal government needs to right the laws and enforce them. If this is allowed to be done on a state level we might see a partial ban and then other states sending waste to states that allow exporting.

  6. Laurie Sullivan
    June 28, 2011

    Hi Jacob,

    What are those alternative solutions? 

    Best, 
    Laurie

  7. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 28, 2011

    I think that we can prioritize reuse over recycling in case when the electronic device is still working. But in our “consumerism” society, there should be more consumer awareness efforts to educate people about how to handle their old devices when they no longer need them and governments should encourage better recycling standards.

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 28, 2011

    I see very little downside to a measure that will benefit the environment and the economy. I hope it gets support in the Congress.

  9. Mr. Roques
    June 28, 2011

    Thanks for sharing the info. From what's currently being done, what are the benefits for companies to recycle? … they can get gold from the circuit boards (in large quantities), what other things can be obtained from the process?

  10. tfcsd
    June 28, 2011

    Again another recycling program being suggested by the big boys that mainly benefit them and it ends there. If one is truly in to living “green” then one should practice the 3R's (or 4R's) of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. “Green” to electronics manufacturers is 1R, which is Recycle. Electronics manufactures might practice some Reduce if it saves them money. Reuse is a problem because “Reuse” means not buying new products to the manufactures' thinking so many manufactures want to skip that step and go straight to Recycling (i.e. scrapping). The problem is some E-waste is still usable (Alas, as attested by the Reuse practiced by counterfeiters) and should be reused by people in the US before recycling. If an electronic product is totally utilized to the end of their useful life then chances are the E-waste would not still be useable to counterfeiters due to obsolescence. The “easy way” (wanted by manufactures) is to make sure no counterfeiters or people can get their hands on anything is by destroying it here in the US in certified recycling station. This is given the guise of creating green jobs, but this may be another example of the “broken window fallacy” where jobs and benefits are lost elsewhere if Reuse was continued or instituted properly. The proper Reuse of used/functional/repairable E-waste is by the poor. Not every person in an economy can walk in the front door of a big box store and pay full price. There is a portion in the US, say 25%, that if they cannot buy it used or repair it, will not have one. If manufacturer suggested recycle programs are allowed to take used/repairable electronics products and deem them E-waste, the poor in the US mainly suffer and this may create even a greater digital divide. This is why I recommend that most used/repairable electronics need to be cycled through the poor before it is truly deemed as E-waste. This to some “green” people is considered wasteful, but this could create even more diverse Reuse “green” jobs than straight Recycling programs being currently suggested.

  11. HM
    June 29, 2011

    Recycling great!

    Reusing – really great and right!

    I liked the last comment by tfcsd.

    But I think we all will have to blame ourselves if reuse is not happening. How many of us try to repair our cellphone when it dies? I have seen everybody either dumps phone in recycle bin (green) and buy a new one or exchange it for a new one. In either case I don't see a reuse! I have seen some cases where refurbished phones are available but then that is a different market (grey).

    I once tried doing 'reusing my phone' by giving my 2 year old phone to my driver ….. guess what he did …. he exchanged it for a new phone. So if we have to reuse we will have to keep using our old phone ourselves and everybody around us will have spanking new smart phones or something newer and we will be called 'outdated' !

    Will some company come forward to really put in infrastructure to take all the old electronics and make a new one ….. I think 'no'.

    just a thought : So if there is a rule where all manufacturers may have a responsible department to upgrade any old model they manufactured (large scale) in past with minimal usage of new components …. hmm…. upto some percentage things might work. so obviously as the title says it will boost job market …. yes.

    regards,

    hari

  12. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 29, 2011

    Because of the push of the technology advances, many a “Still working good” electronics devices are termed obsolete and thrown in the dumpyards. In developed nations this trend has become very common. Where as the people in the third world languish for want of such devices and gadets. The US govt should encourage the export of such working gadgets and devices to the third world countries where such devices will find many years of reuse without consigning them to the junkyards. The recycling should happen only for the damaged and non working electronic and electrical goods.

  13. tfcsd
    June 29, 2011

     

    We already have the infrastructure in the US to practice Reuse but it is dying a slow death. I use to be a consumer electronics (CE) repairer in the 80-90's and have gotten out of the business as others have because it is not worth to fix or cannot fix many modern CE profitable due to soldering complexity, parts availability, obsolescence, and all but the big ticket items are worth repairing. The numbers are smaller who want to repair CE because those who are wealthy enough to buy new will likely buy new again while the poor cannot so it goes to the recycler.  From experience I have found that most recyclers will not allow Reuse because of several reasons mainly doing with their company/insurance rules and effort. If there was a step in the Recycling process for people to easily practice reuse it would naturally happen when profitable. For instance, if I have a 4 year old computer that can use a CPU (no longer being manufactured) at a recycler that will make my computer a little faster. To the recycler there it may be worth a dollar in scrap (being generous) and to me it is worth a few dollars. Logic dictates that the recycler would be better off to sell me that part than to recycle it. Since I cannot afford a new computer (therefore no loss to manufacturers), I benefit from a better computer that can run better software which may also need me to buy new upgrade parts (video, memory, MB, HD) I could afford to buy and this will stimulate the US economy (for I cannot afford to spend $100's-$1000's for brand new but can could afford $10's). Without reuse, I would hold on to my old computer as is and stagnate technologically. Then after a while, after I was done with that reuse part, the recycler would get it back. No, most recyclers ship it OCONUS where it may come back as counterfeits, melted down , or stays over there and used to save other countries money. In essence recycling without reuse in the US is raising technology costs to the US poor, hurting upgrade parts sales, and reducing the need for repair jobs.

     

  14. Laurie Sullivan
    June 29, 2011

    The U.S. government moves slowly. If the bill gets passed and implemented within the next five years it will be a miracle. I just received a press release describing how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fined TMW Corp., $100,000 for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The violations were discovered at the company’s facility, Crown Chrome Plating, a division of TMW, during an inspection conducted by EPA in April 2009 .  I'm sure there are many more examples similar to this one. 

  15. Himanshugupta
    June 30, 2011

    i am not suggesting that to reduce e-waste we should slow the progress of technological advancement but we, as a consumer, should be more complacent in replacing our household items every 2 to 4 years. Most of replaced items last longer than the warranty period. Also, although this solution is not going to work for the industry, but they can make product which last long and can focus on product development from a long term point of view. The new product can really be a much superior product rather than just a add on to the previous product. 

  16. Ms. Daisy
    June 30, 2011

    Mr. Roques:

    With the price of gold at an all time high, the recyclers will definitely prefer recycling to re-use. But what a waste of other materials and the inability to purchase new computers means less access for the poor to get and keep PCs.

  17. stochastic excursion
    June 30, 2011

    Reuse is discouraged mostly because of built-in obsolescence.  Unfortunately this is not obsolescence due to newer models having more meaningful capabilities.  Devices become obsolete because they are not worth fixing, and this is mainly because they are designed not to be fixed.  This is in contrast with the built-in obsolescence seen in the '70's with US-made automobiles.  Then US automakers saw a major loss of market share as Pacific-rim automakers raised the bar on quality management.  Not sure why policy-makers would be interested in having recycling jobs in the US when exporting manufacturing jobs has been so lucrative.  Obviously they care more about chips than jobs.  Maybe if the trend extends beyond recycling to reuse and repair, it might create jobs requiring useful skills.

  18. Mr. Roques
    August 25, 2011

    But there has to be something else that can be taken advantage of. Not only the gold.

    Plastic?

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