Feds step up action on e-waste export

A proposed amendment to existing solid waste disposal laws would restrict export of virtually every non-working electronics device to developing nations.

Up until now, most of the legislative activity related to electronics takeback, recycling and the controversial issues of electronic waste, or e-waste, has been at the state or local level. But as of today there's a new bill floating around called the Electronics Recycling Act of 2010 (aka "Reponsible Electronics Recycling Act'), that aims to prevent U.S. recycling companies from sending e-waste to developing countries.

The bill, which was introduced by U.S. representatives Gene Green, D. - Texas, and Mike Thompson, D.-Calif., would apply to everything from notebooks and e-books to printers and imaging devices to mobile phones. Pretty much anything with an on-off switch that falls into the broad consumer electronics category. It's important to note that the ban applies only to non-functional equipment, not products that are working prior to export. Functioning items can still be exported for potential reuse. The bill would actually be an extension to the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that specifically addresses the restricted items.

Other things that are exempted:

  • Products being sent to a manufacturing facility for warranty work
  • Recalled products
  • Properly crushed and cleaned cathode ray tube (CRT) cullet

The legislation addresses an important issue: Unless you drop a piece of electronics equipment with certain accredited recycling organizations, you can't be certain that it won't wind up in a place where it will be taken apart in methods that aren't safe for the environment or, more importantly, for people. Of concern are materials and chemicals such as lead, chromium, thallium, arsenic and other toxic substances. Two certifications that businesses can turn to for help on this issue include e-Stewards and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Responsible Recycling program.

Here's what Rep. Thompson had to say about the legislation:

"Every year, we scrap 400 million units of electronics in the U.S. Each piece of e-waste can be incredibly harmful to our environment. Congressional action to stop the free flow of these dangerous materials is long overdue and we must act now before it is too late."

The bill has received a thumbs up already from Dell, which plugged it on its green blog, and the Electronics Takeback Coalition, an environment group that has been highly vocal about the e-waste issue. Apple, Samsung and the Natural Resources Defense Council have also been mentioned as supporters.

If this legislation passes, businesses will need to be more diligent about the technology asset disposition organizations that they use. The law would go into effect one year after it was signed.