August has been a big month in the realm of electronic waste and recycling, as the subject was both the focus of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study and a named an international priority by the EPA.
The GAO study was prepared for the House of Representative Committee on Science and Technology and released to the public August 11.
Titled “Electronic Waste: Considerations for Promoting Environmentally Sound Reuse and Recycling,” the report examines the EPA’s efforts to facilitate sound used electronics management, takes a look at the state-by-state approach to regulation and makes recommendations to further reduce the potential impacts of the discarded products.
The EPA estimates that 15-20 percent of used electronics, by weight, are collected for reuse and recycling, while the remainder of collected materials are primarily sent to U.S. landfills.
Still, a substantial amount of used electronics are exported to countries lacking the capacity for safe recycling and disposal, according to an earlier report by the GAO.
One of the largest issues with the domestic recycling and disposal of e-waste is limited infrastructure as major markets for recycled commodities and reusable equipment located overseas.
Adding to the list of issues with the domestic handling of used electronics is the lack of a comprehensive national approach to their reuse and recycling.
Though an effort to develop a national financing system to facilitate the reuse and recycling of used electronics was attempted under the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative, years later the effort exists on a state-by-state level, with 23 states having passed laws as of the publishing of the report.
According to the report, a broad agreement does exist among stakeholders that reusing and recycling electronics in an environmentally sound manner is advantageous over landfill disposal or exportation.
The report also highlights beneficial actions taken by the federal government that could complement future policies, if integrated properly, including the EPA’s Plug-In To eCycling, R2 practices, EPEAT and the Federal Electronics Challenge programs.
Concluding recommendations are made to the Administrator of the EPA to undertake an examination of the agency’s programs regarding used electronics management and to work in collaboration with other federal agencies to ratify components of the Basel Convention dealing with the exportation of used electronics.
One week after the release of the GAO report, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the EPA’s key international priorities, which included “Cleaning Up E-Waste.”
According to the EPA release, “The electronics that provide us with convenience often end up discarded in developing countries where improper disposal can threaten local people and the environment. EPA recognizes this urgent concern and will work with international partners to address the issues of E-waste.”