Obama administration presents e-waste strategy

With an ever-mounting plethora of electronic devices that become obsolete all too fast, e-waste has become a mountainous problem and an environmental hot button.

Earlier today, the Obama administration -- and electronics industry leaders -- unveiled a national e-waste "strategy" to promote US-based recycling and US-based recycling jobs. The strategy also included an emphasis on designing products so that they can be more easily recycled.

The announcement included voluntary commitments by Dell, Sprint and Sony to promote "sound management" of used electronic products.

According to a press release, every year, Americans generate almost 2.5 million tons of used electronics, which are made from valuable resources such as precious metals and rare earth materials, as well as plastic and glass.

The Consumer Electronics Association, the major industry group, applauded the action, saying it echoes the principles it laid out last spring. 

“We look forward to continuing our dialog with EPA, GSA and CEQ in the hopes of fortifying a robust public-private partnership that ensures consumers across our nation have ample opportunities to recycle electronics responsibly,” said Walter Alcorn, CEA vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability. “A formidable partnership is the best way to develop a national approach to eCycling that replaces the patchwork of costly and confusing state regulations.”

Environmental groups gave the announcement mixed reviews. They said it had some good recommendations, but dropped the ball on what many groups say is the most serious e-waste problem _ exporting the waste to developing countries. 

“Sadly, this report is a living contradiction,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network, in a press release. “On the one hand it claims to promote responsible recycling and job creation here in the U.S., but then does nothing to prevent e-waste exporting, which squanders our critical metals resources, and poisons children abroad while exporting good recycling jobs from our country. This report shows why we need Congress to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, now under consideration in both the Senate and Congress, to truly address this issue.”

Here's more from the administration's press release:

As outlined in the strategy report, the Federal Government will:

• promote the development of more efficient and sustainable electronic products;

• direct Federal agencies to buy, use, reuse and recycle their electronics responsibly;

• support recycling options and systems for American consumers; and

• strengthen America’s role in the international electronics stewardship arena.

Under today’s strategy, GSA will remove products that do not comply with comprehensive and robust energy efficiency or environmental performance standards from its information technology purchase contracts used by Federal agencies, and will ensure that all electronics used by the Federal Government are reused or recycled properly. In addition, EPA and GSA will promote development of new environmental performance standards for categories of electronic products not covered by current standards. Several Federal agencies will work together to identify methods for tracking used electronics in Federal agencies to move toward reuse and recycling.

A key component of this strategy includes the use of certified recyclers and increasing safe and effective management and handling of used electronics in the United States and working with industry in a collaborative manner to achieve that goal. As a first step in this effort, EPA Administrator Jackson in Austin, TX today signed a voluntary commitment with Dell Inc. CEO Michael Dell and Sprint CEO Dan Hesse to promote a U.S. based electronics recycling market. Sony Electronics Inc. representatives were also present and also committed to improving the safe management of used electronics.

This collaboration with industry aims to encourage businesses and consumers to recycle their electronics with certified recyclers, and for electronic recyclers to become certified. There are two existing domestic third-party certification recycling entities, R2 and E-Stewards. The electronics recycling industry is increasingly embracing these certification programs. Certified recyclers are regularly audited by these certification entities to ensure that electronics are recycled in a manner that is safe for human health and the environment. As the next steps in this collaborative effort, EPA will continue to work with industry to encourage other companies to voluntarily commit to help grow the domestic recycling market, create the green jobs of the future in the United States and educate consumers.