Electronics Stewardship: EPA Creates Task Force

On Nov. 8, 2010, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley established an interagency Task Force to develop a national strategy and recommendations for improving Federal stewardship of used electronics.  The Task Force was to be co-chaired by the US Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, and Council on Environmental Quality.

Currently, regulation is done on a state-by-state basis.  The map below from EPA may help.

Universal waste regulations can vary between states; and states can add different types of wastes or modify the category.  The map (courtesy EPA) shows the states that have universal waste regulations and which of those states have added different waste categories (in green).

Universal waste is a category of waste materials deemed to be “lower risk” hazardous waste generated by a variety of people.  This waste includes CRTs which includes of course computer monitors, TVs, phones, and similar electronic devices.

Murky? It can be. The point of this federal Task Force is to, among other things, pursue federal legislation and therefore condition and possibly comb out the tangle of provincial law on electronics waste in the US.

Electronics Stewardship Task Force mission. The Task Force mission is towards American businesses, government and citizens working together to manage electronics throughout the product lifecycle — from design and manufacturing through use and eventual recycling, recovery, and disposal.  It’s a bold idea.  The deadline for the group to produce a national framework is May 6, 2011.

By May 6, the Electronics Stewardship Task Force will produce a national framework for:

  1. Directing Federal agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities to achieve the electronic stewardship goals, consistent with domestic and international law.
  2. Developing a system-based approach to the long-term design, management and disposal of Federal used electronics.
  3. 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.
  4. Building partnerships in the public and private sector for sustainable electronics management nationwide.
  5. Reducing exports of used electronics to developing countries that lack the capacity to properly manage them, and assess how federal agencies can improve their ability to deter these exports.
  6. Building capacity within and share best practices with developing countries, so they can improve their ability to safely handle used electronics, while promoting economic development.

Electronics Stewardship framework background. Unwanted or discarded electronics not reused or recycled represents a lost opportunity to reuse functioning electronic equipment and components, such as cellphone and computers/laptops or recover valuable resources, such as precious metals, plastics or minerals that are found in scarce or critical supply.

Additionally, used electronics may be exported to developing countries that lack capacity to manage them appropriately and result in negative impacts to human health and the environment.

The majority of electronics recyclers in the United States refurbish, repair, or pre-process (demanufacture, shred, sort) used electronics to prepare them for the final recovery step. Facilities that further recover raw materials, through smelting and refining (end-processing), are mostly located outside the United States.

Such facilities can convert electronics scrap into

  1. high grade copper and precious metals (e.g., gold, silver, and palladium),
  2. new CRTs, or
  3. new plastics

all of which can be reused in the marketplace.

The current comment period ended on March 11. There will be another opportunity to comment on the Framework developed by the Task Force after it is delivered to the Council on Environmental Quality, which, again, is slated for May 6, 2011.

Electronics Stewardship current regulation. Currently, there are no federal mandates that require electronics recycling or restrict unwanted electronics equipment from solid waste landfills in the United States.

Bear in mind that EPA does, however, control how cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors (for instance, from TV and computers) are managed domestically – especially if they are subject to hazardous waste regulation. EPA requires notifications if CRT monitors are exported for recycling.

A growing number of states are mandating collection and recycling of used electronics. In addition, there are now two electronics recycling standards and accredited certification and innovative product stewardship software programs that address the handling of used electronics throughout the recycling chain.

For more, see: http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/03/01/2011-4505/solicitation-of-input-from-stakeholders-to-inform-the-national-framework-for-electronics-stewardship#p-56

About Kal

Kal Kawar, CIH, PE, has a bachelor's in chemical engineering and a master's in industrial hygiene. His professional experience includes serving as staff industrial hygienist for IBM's New York semiconductor manufacturing facility, and as industrial hygienist for IBM’s US headquarters. Now executive vice president of Actio, Kal taps more than 20 years' worth of chemical engineering, industrial hygiene, and environmental engineering experience. His far-reaching expertise with global regulatory challenges created by EPA, TSCA, REACH, RoHS, WEEE – and hundreds of others – aid in developing Actio software solutions for MSDS management, raw material disclosure compliance, and product stewardship in a supply chain.
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