New Legislation Monitors Conflict Minerals in Gadgets

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The new financial reform bill includes language specifically relating to the presence of conflict materials in consumer electronics, a situation that major manufacturers are taking seriously. Photo: Flickr/.imelda

Last week, Obama signed the financial reform bill, which included language on Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) conflict minerals. The Congo Amendment, adopted from the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128) introduced by Reps. Jim McDermott and Frank Wolf, is a significant step towards addressing the mineral trade that is fueling instability and violence in the DRC.

The legislation is making waves because conflict minerals may be used to manufacture everyday electronics from cell phones to laptops. Some of these minerals, such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, are essential to the function of these devices.

To make sure a product is as responsibly produced as possible, it’s beneficial for a consumer to be aware of how electronics manufacturers source their minerals.

The Congo Amendment’s final language requires companies that use these minerals in their products to trace their origins and to file an annual disclosure report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) detailing whether these materials originated in Congo or one of the nine surrounding countries.

While the provision doesn’t ban companies from importing conflict minerals into the U.S., it mandates that this information be provided to consumers on the companies’ websites, so that potential buyers can make informed decisions.

John Taylor, vice president of public affairs and communications for LG Electronics USA, Inc., says the company has been closely following the situation in the Congo for a long time.

“The complication is that the heavy metals [used in a variety of products in our industry] are derived from minerals that come from all around the world,” he says. “We want to comply with the law. We are early in the process to identify auditors to certify that the components we use in our products do not include conflict minerals.”

When purchasing an electronic, it’s a good idea to keep in mind a product’s lifecycle as a whole. This includes exploring responsible disposal options, like recycling, in order to take advantage of these valuable minerals that have already been harvested for use.

If you have used, unwanted, obsolete or damaged electronics, many common brands provide nationwide recycling programs.

Waste Management, Inc. operates free eCycling drop-off centers that recycled more than 5 million pounds of electronics in 2009 alone. Find a location for Sony-branded products here and for Goldstar, Zenith and LG-branded products here.

Also note that Sony’s Take Back Recycling Program, which has collected 27.1 million pounds of electronics since September 2007, also offers a free ECO mail back program in Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Virginia.

The Electronic Manufacturers Recycling Management Company (MRM) operates a recycling program that includes Panasonic, Mitsubishi Electric, Sharp, Toshiba and Vizio brands. The program has recycled 55 million pounds of electronics since its inception in October 2007. There are 600 locations throughout the U.S.

Another great idea for still-functioning electronics is donation to secondhand stores or schools. Decrease the need for new electronics by waiting until cell phones, PCs, laptops, televisions and game consoles are no longer operational before recycling.

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