Feds: We'll take lead in buying green IT, recycling same responsibly

Products that don't comply with energy-efficiency or environmental performance expectations will be removed from GSA purchasing contracts.

The federal government has pledged to remove servers, desktops, printers, notebooks and other IT products that don't comply with energy-efficiency standards from the General Services Administration's contract schedule. The government also said it will do a better job of figuring out how to recycle or reuse its cast-off or outdated IT equipment. The moves come as the pressure rises for the United States to become a better national steward of policies that cut down on electronic waste, aka e-waste, the fastest growing part of the nation's municipal waste stream.

Said GSA Administrator Martha Johnson:

"The nation's largest single consumer of electronics, the federal government, will now be the nation's most responsible user of electronics. The steps outline in the report will ensure that the government leads by example and that the billions of dollars in IT equipment the government cycles through annually will be either reused or recycled properly."

During an event to announce the action at an Austin-based certified electronics facility, three major high-tech players -- Dell, Sony Electronics and Sprint -- also committed publicly to doing more to help encourage "environmentally sound management of used electronics."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was joined at an Austin electronics recycling facility by GSA Adminstrator Martha Johnson, White House Council on Environment Chair Nancy Sutley, Dell CEO Michael Dell, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and Sony Vice President Mark Small.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was joined at an Austin electronics recycling facility by GSA Adminstrator Martha Johnson, White House Council on Environment Chair Nancy Sutley, Dell CEO Michael Dell, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and Sony Vice President Mark Small.

All of these commitments come under the guise of the Obama Administration's "National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship." That strategy calls for the following:

  • Encourage development of more efficient and sustainable electronics products
  • Direct federal agencies to buy and dispose of electronics responsibly
  • Support recycling options for American consumers
  • Strengthen America's role in international electronics stewardship

Up until recently, most of the U.S. action on this issue has been driven and led by state initiatives; about half of them have laws describing how individuals and businesses should dispose of certain electronics items. But with Americans now generating up to 2.5 million tons of used electronics per year -- including mobile phones, computers and all those gadgets we love so much -- the Obama administration has become much more interested in this topic. Not just because it has an interest in protecting the environment, but because it wants to encourage the development of a strong domestic electronics recycling energy, instead of seeing technology shipped offshore to be handled under often-questionable circumstances. Right now, there are two major certifications for e-waste handling: R2 and E-Stewards. The government is encouraging consumers and businesses to embrace these third-party certifications.

Said EPA Adminstrator Lisa Jackson:

"A robust electronics recycling industry in America would create new opportunities to efficiently and profitably address a growing pollution threat. The participation of industry leaders like Dell, Spring and Sony is absolutely essentially to this effort, and will help ensure that the work of the federal government -- the largest electronics consumer around -- is protecting our people from pollution at the same time we support savings and job creation through e-cycling and re-use of valuable materials."

Aside from the companies featured at the event, two industry associations wasted no time giving the thumbs-up to today's news: the Consumer Electronics Association and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. Both organizations believe that public-private partnerships will be imperative to addressing the e-waste burden.

Two other organizations, however, bemoaned the fact that the strategy doesn't explicitly call for a ban on exporting e-waste. Those organizations, the Electronic TakeBack Coalition and the Basel Action Network, renewed their call for an export ban.

Noted Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network:

"Sadly, this report is a living contradiction. On the one hand it claims to promote responsible recycling and 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."

As baby steps go towards the bigger goal, though, I'll take this one.

Related posts about e-waste:

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