Discarded electronic waste (e-waste) contains hazardous substances. When improperly handled, e-waste poses a threat to both the handler and the environment.
E-waste is often exported to developing countries where low-wage workers disassemble the equipment and scavenge usable components, contaminating themselves and the environment in the process. In an effort to stop this practice, 20 countries ratified the UN-sponsored Basel Convention in 1992. The goal was to restrict the export of e-waste to developing countries. While the US signed the Basel Convention, it never enacted legislation to ban e-waste exports.
Is this about to change? Is the US ready to meet the commitment it made when it signed the Basel Convention? Two recent developments indicate the country may be moving in that direction:
- On November 15, 2010, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation on electronics recycling, announcing that the government was creating an Interagency Task Force "to prepare a national strategy for responsible electronics stewardship, including improvements to Federal procedures for managing electronic products." He added that he wanted "to ensure the Federal Government leads as a responsible consumer." The task force published its report on July 20, 2011. While it endorsed requiring federal government agencies to properly recycle e-waste, it stopped short of endorsing national e-waste export legislation.
- In the absence of national e-waste legislation, 25 US states have gone ahead and enacted their own e-waste disposal laws. While states can regulate in-state practices, they are unable to regulate e-waste exports. That's why the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (HR 2284/S1270) was proposed in Congress in June.
The bill would create a new category of "restricted electronic waste" that is not allowed to be exported. Only fully functional equipment, products being sent back to a manufacturer for repairs, or products being recalled would be allowed to be exported. Companies supporting passage of the bill include HP, Dell, Samsung, Apple and Best Buy.
What do you think the chances are of Congress enacting legislation banning the export of e-waste? I recommend companies utilize recyclers that adhere to international best-practices and that agree not to export e-waste to developing countries. My company only uses e-steward certified recyclers. As a result, we have been recognized as an e-steward enterprise. I recommend your company do likewise.
More information on e-steward recyclers is available at e-stewards.org. Are you responsibly disposing of your e-waste?