Reps. Green and Thompson Introduce Electronic Waste Recycling Bill

Jun 23, 2011 Issues: Environment

Washington, D.C. – In response to growing concern about the proper disposal of an increasing number of discarded consumer electronic products, Rep. Gene Green (TX-29) and Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-01) introduced H.R. 2284, The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, to prohibit the exportation of some electronics whose improper disposal may create environmental, health, or national security risks. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office reported that many of the developing nations that receive e-waste from the United States do not have the capacity or facilities to safely recycle and dispose of these used electronics. H.R. 2284 would address this growing problem.

“E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the United States, and it can pose a serious problem in that most e-waste contains toxic chemicals which present environmental and health concerns when not properly handled,” said Rep. Green. “As the Ranking Member on the House Energy and Commerce Environment and Economy Subcommittee, I look forward to working with the majority in the House to pass this bill, which successfully addresses this growing issue.  I also want to thank Senators Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], Sherrod Brown [D-OH], and Lisa Murkowski [R-AK] for introducing the companion bill in the Senate.”

“Each year, millions of tons of electronics equipment are discarded in the U.S. and shipped to developing nations for unsafe salvage and recovery,” said Rep. Thompson. “By carefully regulating the export of e-waste, this bipartisan legislation takes concrete steps to address a growing environmental and health crisis while creating good-paying recycling jobs here in the U.S.”

Specifically, H.R. 2284 creates a new section of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act that prohibits the export of “restricted electronic equipment” from the U.S. to developing nations. In defining restricted electronic equipment, the bill lists several toxic materials, the presence of which would cause some covered equipment to be considered restricted waste. The bill calls for the EPA to set de minimis levels for these toxic substances and clarifies that material streams such as plastics, metals, and glass that do not contain hazardous chemicals above the de minimis levels may be exported.

Under H.R. 2284, tested and working equipment can still be exported to promote reuse, along with products exported for warranty repair or due to recall.  Importing countries must give their consent to accept exempted exports.  This legislative approach is consistent with the e-waste policies adopted by most other developed nations via international treaties, such as the Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment.

“As an industry leader in product lifecycle improvements, HP does not allow the export of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries. We support the work of Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, and we encourage other companies to join the effort and promote responsible recycling,” said Ashley Watson, Vice President and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for HP.

In addition to promoting the responsible recycling of e-waste, The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011 will also create good-paying jobs in America. While there are domestic recyclers that currently process e-waste, they have a hard time competing with overseas recycling facilities that have few, if any, labor and environmental standards and are thus able to offer cheaper services. By promoting the domestic recycling industry, H.R. 2284 will bring recycling jobs back to the U.S.  

“This is the most important step our federal government can take to solve the e-waste problem – to close the door on e-waste dumping on developing countries,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national environmental coalition which promotes responsible recycling of e-waste.  “It will bring recycling jobs back to the U.S.”

Dewayne Burns, CEO of ESCO Processing and Recycling added, “Not only is this bill good for the environment, but it gives a boost to small business recyclers and creates more green jobs.  This is what both the industry and our customers want.”

H.R. 2284 also creates a research program at the Department of Energy to help assess the recycling and recovery of Rare Earth Metals from electronics. This provision will help ensure the proper collection and recycling of precious and strategic metals.

H.R. 2284 has garnered bipartisan support with original Republican cosponsors, Rep. Steven LaTourette (OH-14) and Rep. Lee Terry (NE-2).  The legislation is also broadly supported by the recycling industry, including official backing from Hewlett Packard, Dell, Apple, Samsung, Best Buy, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, and 29 recyclers representing 74 recycling operations in 34 states. 

For more information about H.R. 2284, click here.