Tuesday, November 16, 2010

President Proclamation & New Task Force On Electronic Waste

Nov 16: U.S. EPA announced that yesterday, on America Recycles Day, President Obama signed a proclamation celebrating the strides the country has made in recycling generally, while also highlighting the need for greater attention to addressing electronic waste (e-waste). Last week, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), EPA, and the General Services Administration (GSA) formed a task force, under the Executive Order on Federal Sustainability, charged with helping the Federal government lead by example in responsibly managing used electronics.

    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.
    Specifically, the Proclamation states in part, "While we can celebrate the breadth of our successes on America Recycles Day, we must also recommit to building upon this progress and to drawing attention to further developments, including the recycling of electronic products. . . To address the problems caused by electronic waste, American businesses, government, and individuals must work together to manage these electronics throughout the product lifecycle -- from design and manufacturing through their use and eventual recycling, recovery, and disposal. To ensure the Federal Government leads as a responsible consumer, my
Administration has established an interagency task force to prepare a national strategy for responsible electronics stewardship, including improvements to Federal procedures for managing electronic products. This strategy must 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. . ."
    According to a CEQ letter on the newly established Task Force, "CEQ will coordinate the initial convening of the Task Force and provide any necessary policy direction to guide the process. Within 180 days from the date of this memorandum [November 8, 2010], the Task Force shall deliver to CEQ a national framework that includes:
  • 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.
    Interestingly, neither the EPA release, nor the Proclamation mention the fact that as recently as this fall two major competing electronic waste recycling programs, operated by Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (R2) and the Basal Action Network (e-Stewards), have announced major developments in their programs designed to prove their validity, independence and authentication [See WIMS 9/28/10]. The two programs have now created a confusing system for the public and private sectors to participate in responsible electronics recycling. While EPA Administrator Jackson has said that the issue of proper management of E-waste is a major international priority of the U.S. and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, EPA has done little to provide clarity to the two competing and confusing programs. In general, EPA has said it supports both programs, however, the competing programs have different operating practices, conflicting vendor auditing and certifications and different requirements on exporting and processing waste to and by foreign countries or facilities.
    On its website, EPA states that, "Recently, steps were taken to significantly increase safe reuse and recycling of electronics equipment. Electronics recyclers now have the ability to become certified to responsible recycling standards by demonstrating to an accredited, independent third party that they can, and do, meet available standards. EPA encourages all electronics recyclers to become certified to these new recycling standards and that customers who use electronics recyclers choose recyclers that are certified. EPA supports and will continue to push for further safe and protective recycling efforts and encourage improvements in best management practices for recyclers. There are existing recycling certification programs, such as R2 and e-Stewards, that EPA believes advance environmentally safe practices and include standards for use in third party certification of such efforts."
    The EPA release and Proclamation also did not mention the massive October 21 report from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) entitled, A Review of Federal Prison Industries' Electronic-Waste Recycling Program. The main 433-page report and 1008-page Appendix found that staff and inmates at several Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities, have been exposed to toxic metals including cadmium and lead in the electronic waste recycling program run by the Federal Prison Industries -- also known as UNICOR [See WIMS 10/28/10]. OIG said, "Our investigation found that prior to 2009 UNICOR's management of the e-waste recycling program resulted in numerous violations of health, safety, and environmental laws, regulations, and BOP policies. We concluded that UNICOR's Headquarters staff poorly managed UNICOR's e-waste program prior to 2009."
    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access the Proclamation (click here). Access more information on the Interagency Task Force on E-waste Management (click here). Access further information from the EPA eCycling website (click here). Access further background information from previous WIMS postings on electronic waste (click here).  Access the ISRI Certified Electronics Recycler® Program (click here). Access the BAN Certified e-Stewards® Initiative (click here). Access the BAN e-Stewards standard (click here). Access the ISRI R2 Practices (click here).