Be Bold

GAO urges EPA to strengthen its e-waste programs.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should examine how it can augment and integrate its various voluntary e-waste recycling programs to boost the landfill diversion of electronics, according to a recently issued report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The 70-page report, titled "Electronic Waste: Considerations for Promoting Environmentally Sound Reuse and Recycling" was submitted in July to U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology.

Examples of the programs include "Plug-In to eCycling," in which EPA and retailers promote an event for individuals to donate electronics for recycling, and the "Federal Electronics Challenge," a program that, in part, encourages federal agencies to recycle e-waste. According to GAO, the "programs have had a positive but limited effect."

In the report, GAO also urges EPA to work with the State Department and the Council on Environmental Quality to finalize a proposal that could be submitted to Congress and that would ratify the Basel Convention, an international treaty that seeks to limit the movement of hazardous waste, such as improperly managed e-waste, between nations.

The report also examines stakeholder views on the more than 20 state e-waste recycling laws that are currently on the books. Perhaps unsurprisingly, "to varying degrees, the entities regulated under the state electronics recycling laws — electronics manufacturers, retailers and recyclers — consider the increasing number of laws to be a compliance burden," GAO says. In particular, manufacturers voiced the most misgivings about the differences between the state laws, the report says.

Conversely, state and local solid waste officials "expressed varying levels of satisfaction" with their laws, GAO says.

In the conclusion to its report, GAO states, "While empirical information about the experiences of states and other stakeholders in their efforts to manage used electronics can inform [the debate about how to best recycle e-waste], the question of a national approach revolves around policy issues, such as how to balance the need to ensure that recycling occurs nationwide as well as industry’s interests in a uniform, national approach with states’ prerogatives to tailor used electronics management toward their individual needs and preferences."

"In the end, these larger policy issues are matters for negotiation among the concerned parties and for decision making by Congress and the administration," the report says.

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