Federal Legislation and Policy on E-Waste
Federal E-Waste Laws
Wastes, including electronic waste, are subject to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Some electronic wastes – like cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs and monitors are classified as hazardous waste in the U.S. because of the hazardous materials inside. But if certain electronic wastes (CRTs, whole used circuit boards, shredded circuit boards) are sent for recycling, EPA rules sometimes exempt these from their definition of hazardous waste.
Because of the federal exemptions, it’s legal to export almost all electronic waste from the U.S. to developing countries. RCRA says you can’t sent hazardous waste to developing countries without their consent, and the EPA has a “prior informed consent” process for this purpose. But because the EPA has enacted rules that exempt these various kinds of e-waste from the definition of hazardous waste, the export rules no longer apply to these products if they are being exported “for recycling.” The only law that currently restricts e-waste exports in any way is the federal CRT Rule. Note that the 2014 changes in the CRT rule go into effect as of Dec. 26, 2014.
The EPA’s website on e-waste regulation is here.
Note that many states have enacted waste laws that are stricter than the federal laws. Also, because there is no federal law on electronics recycling, many states have passed e-waste recycling laws.
Congressional bill to stop the global dumping of e-waste
On July 24, 2013 Congress introduced HR 2791, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2013 (RERA) with bipartisan support. RERA would make it illegal to send toxic e-waste from the U.S. to developing nations. The Senate introduced the same legislation (S 2090) on March 6, 2014.
Co-sponsors of the House bill:
- Mike Coffman, CO
- Mike McCaul, TX
- Steve Stivers, OH
- Susan Brooks, IN
- Dan Benishek, MI
- Richard Nugent, FL
- Blake Farenthold, TX
- Mark Amodei, NV
- Bill Shuster, PA
- Bill Huizenga, MI
- Christopher Gibson, NY
- Richard Hudson, NC
- Jeff Denham, CA
- Tim Murphy, PA
- Richard Hanna, NY
- Don Young, AK
- Mike Rogers, MI
- Gene Green, TX (Bill sponsor)
- Mike Thompson, CA
- Louise Slaughter, NY
- C.A. Ruppersberger, MD
- Frederica Wilson, FL
The bill is supported by environmental groups as well as electronic manufacturers (Dell, HP, Samsung, Apple, and Best Buy), all of which already have policies that prohibit the export of e-waste to developing nations. It is also supported by a new and growing business coalition, called the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER). This coalition now includes over 100 companies operating over 218 facilities in 34 states. Its membership includes Waste Management, Sims Recycling Solutions (the largest electronics recycler in the world), Covanta, and Alcoa). It’s a common practice for “recyclers” to export electronic products from the U.S. to developing countries, where the toxics inside cause great harm. Chips from obsolete electronics sent to China have become a primary source for counterfeiters, who make cosmetic changes then sell them as “military grade” into the U.S. defense industry supply chain, creating potential national security problems and failure risks. This bill restricts the export of electronics containing certain toxic chemicals to developing countries. It would still allow exports of tested and working parts and products, as well as products or components under warranty, exported by the manufacturers for warranty repairs, and products subject to recalls.
- Summary of HR 2791
- Text of The Responsible Electronic Recycling Act of 2013, HR 2791
- Joint press release
- FAQ on Global E-Waste Dumping
- E-Waste Export Briefing Book – Learn more about the problems that this bill is meant to address.
- Fact sheet on counterfeit chip problem, linked to exporting U.S. e-waste
- Section-by-section analysis of the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act 2013 HR 2791
Congressional Work on a National Takeback and Recycling Program.
There is currently no federal legislation pending to establish a federal takeback program. Click here to learn more about this issue.
Information on federal administrative policies on e-waste is here.