The arrival of fall brought with it the unveiling of federal legislation aimed at stopping the export of e-waste to developing nations. In late September, U.S. Reps. Gene Green, D-Texas, and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., introduced The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (H.R. 6252). The congressmen say the bill is necessary because developing nations that receive used electronics from U.S. companies often do not have the infrastructure needed to safely process the products and minimize their environmental impact.
The bill would create a new section to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that would ban the export of certain kinds of e-waste to developing nations.
The legislation would permit "tested and working" electronics to be exported to a developing nation to promote reuse, but items such as non-functioning computers, televisions and printers would not be allowed to be exported. Other electronics that would be allowed to be sent overseas include items that are under warranty and are being returned to the manufacturing facility that produced them, and electronics that are being recalled.
The bill defines a "developing nation" as one that is not a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation or the European Union, or Liechtenstein, which is not a member of either.
"Every year, we scrap 400 million units of electronics in the [United States," Thompson said in a statement. "Each piece of e-waste can be incredibly harmful to our environment. Congressional action to stop the free flow of these dangerous materials is long overdue, and we must act now before it is too late."
According to Thompson and Green, their bill already has the support of manufacturers such as Dell, Apple and Samsung as well as the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and The Natural Resources Defense Council, two prominent environmental organizations.
"This e-waste export bill will stem the tide of the toxic techno-trash sent from the [United States] to developing countries around the world," said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, in a press release. "Right now, consumers can't tell whether their local recycler will actually recycle their old products or dump them on the developing countries — and this bill will solve that problem, as well as create new recycling jobs here in the [United States]."
As of press time, the bill had been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The bill can be tracked at www.govtrack.us.
The legislation comes shortly after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a 70-page report urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to augment and integrate its various voluntary e-waste recycling programs to boost the landfill diversion of electronics.
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, titled "Electronic Waste: Considerations for Promoting Environmentally Sound Reuse and Recycling," GAO also addresses the issue of e-waste exports. The office 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. The convention is an international treaty that seeks to limit the movement of hazardous waste, such as improperly managed e-waste, between nations.