Major electronics companies back e-waste bill

by Elana Schor, Energy and Environment Daily

Three of Silicon Valley’s biggest players are throwing their weight behind a new proposal from Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Gene Green (D-Texas) to curb the export of used electronics to developing nations where such toxic “e-waste” can wreak havoc on the health of local populations.

The House Democrats introduced a bill yesterday that would prohibit most discarded electronics from being shipped to countries that do not belong to the 33-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The measure, which would align the United States with the goals of the international Basel Convention and its so-called Ban Amendment, has won the endorsements of Dell Inc., Apple Inc. and Samsung.

Green depicted the legislation as a win-win that would protect human health in nations such as China, where scientists have found recycling industry workers were exposed to heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, while promoting the economic health of U.S. recyclers.

“It’s a green jobs bill,” Green told reporters yesterday. “There are small domestic recyclers that process these materials, but they have trouble competing [with foreign rivals].”

Dell has an internal policy that bans the export of electronic waste to the developing world, but the company’s sustainable business director, Mark Newton, said only a few other companies have followed suit. The Thompson-Green bill, Newton said yesterday, “gives consumers confidence that the systems they return in good faith for recycling will be managed responsibly.”

More than 165 nations have approved the Basel treaty, which is managed by the United Nations Environment Program and covers hazardous trash that ranges beyond e-waste, but the United States has yet to formally sign on. U.S. EPA chief Lisa Jackson recommended Basel ratification as a means to limit the health risks of discarded computers and gadgets in a May speech to members of Interpol (Greenwire <> , May 26).

Thompson, whose e-waste advocacy led him to form a a bipartisan House caucus on the issue, pointed to language on Pentagon recycling in the House-passed defense authorization bill as a sign that the new bill’s late introduction would not hinder its chances. “No matter what happens in the 111th Congress, I think we’ve made a lot of progress” toward an electronics recycling bill that can win broad backing, Thompson told reporters.

New York recently became the 23rd state to pass e-waste recycling laws, a push spearheaded by environmental groups such as the Electronics TakeBack Coalition that see a sweeping threat in the toxicity of aging cell phones, computers and other devices (Greenwire <> , June 29).

The components of e-waste are “literally poisoning people,” said Barbara Kyle, the coalition’s national coordinator. “Everyone is working hard to divert e-waste from landfills, instead sending it to recyclers,” she added, but said the effort would be undercut “if the result of all this good work is that we’re just sending a wider stream … to vulnerable communities.”