The US government is making its first effort to address electronics waste.
An Interagency Task Force - chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Environmental Protection Agency, and General Services Administration, outlined the new federal strategy in a new report released last week with much fanfare in Austin, Texas.
As outlined in the report, the US government will:
- promote 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 Americans
- strengthen America’s role in the international electronics stewardship arena
Although the strategy is strong on green design, which in itself would reduce waste, and addresses the need for using certified recyclers, it fails to address what is generally recognized as the most serious e-waste problem - e-waste exporting to developing countries.
"We are very disappointed that the Task Force missed the opportunity handed to them by President Obama's mandate to truly lead by example and ensure that all federal agencies do the right thing and not export obsolete used electronic equipment unless it is fully functional," says Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of the Electronic TakeBack Coalition, a national environmental coalition which promotes responsible recycling of e-waste.
"We have other companies like Dell, HP, Apple, Samsung that have set the leadership bar there, so I don't understand why our own federal government can't do the same with its own e-waste," she adds.
Currently, most U.S. electronic waste is exported to developing countries by U.S. companies that claim to be recyclers, to be bashed, burned, flushed with acids, and melted down in unsafe conditions in developing countries.
80% of children in Guiyu, China, a region where many "recycled" electronics wind up, have elevated levels of lead in their blood, due to the toxins in those electronics, much of which originates in the U.S. The plastics in the imported electronics are typically burned outdoors, which can emit deadly dioxin or furans, which are breathed in by workers and nearby residents.
"Sadly, this report is a living contradiction," says Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. "On the one hand it claims to promote responsible recycling and green 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."
The Electronic TakeBack Coalition does applaud the commitment by the GSA to use its purchasing power to promote greener products, and to get involved in the standards setting processes.
"We think it's appropriate that the country's largest electronics purchaser, especially one using taxpayer dollars, do everything possible to advocate for products that are less toxic, longer lasting, and more recyclable," said Barbara Kyle.