In a release EPA said electronic waste from old cell phones, computers and other devices often contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Most of this waste is landfilled, which creates potential health and environmental hazards throughout the U.S., and a "significant part of the rest is shipped to developing countries that lack the capacity to manage these wastes safely, threatening the health and environment of those communities." Reusing and recycling e-waste reduces the risks from these hazards and also provides opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint and conserve valuable natural resources.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "Used electronics represent the fastest growing segment of local solid waste in our country. Far too many used electronics end up in landfills or are exported to nations where there is little capacity for safe management. Rather than benefitting from the reuse and recycling of valuable components, we see increased exposure to the toxic chemicals and other harmful substances in electronic devices. EPA has made the handling of used electronics and e-waste one of our top priorities, and through this task force the U.S. can become the world leader in sustainable electronics management. There are cost-effective and potentially profitable methods to better manage these materials and prevent health and environmental threats at home and around the world."
Nancy Sutley, Chair of CEQ said, "The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that its own waste is properly managed and recycled. Identifying opportunities to reuse the valuable resources contained in most disposed electronic devices is an important part of our obligation to protect human health and the environment." GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said, "Already one of the largest consumers of electronics, we plan to make the federal government the most responsible. Not only will we reduce the federal government's footprint, we will model behavior for private consumers and use our position in the marketplace to drive the development of sustainable electronics and recycling solutions."
According to the release, the interagency task force, co-chaired by EPA, GSA, and CEQ, will develop a national strategy for responsible electronics stewardship, including improvements to Federal procedures for managing electronic products. The strategy will also "include steps to ensure electronics containing hazardous materials collected for recycling and disposal are not exported to developing nations that lack the capacity to manage the recovery and disposal of these products in ways that safeguard human health and the environment."
On October 11, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson visited the town of Guiyu in Guandong Province, China. Guiyu is noteworthy for its large electronic waste recycling industry. Jackson saw firsthand some of the approaches being used to recycle and reuse discarded electronics and appliances and discussed remaining challenges and opportunities for collaboration.
EPA said reusing or recycling electronics helps the environment by reducing our carbon footprint and conserving resources. Electronic equipment contains valuable materials, such as precious metals and rare earth minerals, which can be recycled. Recycling these components conserves materials, prevents air and water pollution, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions that occur during extraction, manufacturing and processing. For example, for every 1 million cell phones recycled, 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium, and more than 35,000 pounds of copper can be recovered.
EPA indicated that electronics and other products are usually created from raw materials that are extracted from the Earth, transported and processed, distributed, consumed, reused or recycled, and ultimately disposed. Each of these stages creates impacts on the environment, which are unsustainable with limited natural resources. By making smarter choices, consuming less, and reusing and recycling, everyone can contribute to a healthier and more sustainable environment. Also, by promoting responsible electronics stewardship, green jobs can be created and a vibrant American reuse, recycling and refurbishing industry can be built.
- An action plan directing Federal agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities to achieve the electronic stewardship goals, consistent with domestic and international law;
- Recommendations for a system-based approach to the long-term design, management and disposal of Federal used electronics;
- Recommendations for information gathering and tracking, regulatory options, and best management practices for used electronics that can be used by the Federal agencies and leveraged to the private sector;
- A plan to build partnerships in the public and private sector for sustainable electronics management nationwide; and,
- A plan to reduce exports of used electronics to developing countries that lack capacity to properly manage them, and assess how Federal agencies can improve their ability to deter these exports. The plan will include a strategy to build capacity within and share best practices with developing countries, so they can improve their ability to safely handle used electronics, while promoting economic development.