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Federal Legislation On Takeback

Congressional Work on a National Takeback and Recycling Program

The topic of creating a national approach to e-waste take back and recycling had been discussed for many years at the federal level. (See history, below.) The most recent effort was from the Congressional E-Waste Working Group.

Congressional E-Waste Concepts Paper

In March, 2008, a group of eight members of Congress released a draft “Concepts Paper” for federal e-waste recycling legislation. This document was sent to stakeholders – manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, States, NGOs (including ETBC), etc – for comments. The paper was intended to lead to discussion on a federal e-waste solution. Stakeholders were asked to comment by March 14, 2008.

The members of Congress that participated in the discussion on e-waste legislation were:

Why Don’t We Have a Federal E-Waste Recycling Law?

We often hear representatives from the industry associations complaining that we have a “patchwork” of state laws, and no federal law on electronics takeback. But history explains that it’s actually the industry’s own disagreements on this issue that has prevented a federal takeback law, which led the states to tackle this issue at the state level.

Here’s the history:

Multi-Stakeholder Process: NEPSI 2001-2004.

A three year stakeholder process convened by the EPA brought together industry, government, retailers, NGO’s and recyclers into a dialogue known as NEPSI – the National Electronic Product Stewardship Initiative. NEPSI fell apart in 2004 because of disagreements within the industry about who would pay for recycling. TheTV companies were adamantly opposed to producer responsibility, and the computer companies were willing to support it.

Industry Associations Disagree – 2007:

Next, we saw two different proposals from the industry associations. EIA (now ITIC) proposed legislation in 2007 that codified the industry split, proposing a consumer fee based approach to pay for TV recycling, and producer responsibility for IT equipment. When that failed to catch on, the retailers industry association and HP made a proposal that also failed to garner wide support.

Congressional E-Waste Working Group – 2008:

Next, the members of Congress gave it a shot. In March of 2008, the Congressional E-waste Working Group put out a detailed concepts paper for federal legislation in February of this year. The NGO’s liked most of it, as did state and local governments. But industry did not support it.

Priority Should Be Legislation to Stop the Global Dumping of E-Waste

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition believes that the issue that most needs federal legislation is the problem of global dumping of our e-waste on developing countries. Most e-waste collected by recyclers in the USis actually exported to developing countries, causing horrific contamination. Before we do any more ramping up of e-waste collections, we need to close the door on the export to poor countries.

Current regulations

Under federal regulations, unwanted electronic equipment that contains a cathode ray tube (CRT) or mercury are considered hazardous waste. But these hazardous waste regulations do not apply, however, to household sources of electronics, or to “small quantity generators” – businesses that generate under 7-8 CRTs per year, because the EPA has decided to exempt them. The EPA revised the CRT rules in July 2006, but did not remove this small generator exemption. Therefore, it is perfectly legal for us to throw our electronic waste into the trash in most states. (Some states have taken action to ban e-waste.)

EPA’s CRT Rule

View relevant federal regulations: Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40, Part 261

States Can Treat E-Waste as Toxic Waste

States may promulgate their own regulations defining hazardous waste. California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control considers cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in computer monitors, television sets, and other devices containing significant concentrations of lead and other heavy metals, as hazardous waste when they are discarded. Therefore, they must be managed in accordance with hazardous waste requirements in California.

Resources on the e-waste export problem

On Sept 17, 2008, the GAO released a called “Electronic Waste: EPA Needs To Better Control Harmful US Exports throught Stronger Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation.” Link to GAO report.

Learn more about the problem with e-waste exports to developing countries, on the ETBC website.