EPA’S E-CYCLING EFFORTS FALL SHORT …..
EPA’S E-CYCLING EFFORTS FALL SHORT …..
2005-12-22 at 9:43:00 am #13558
Auditors say EPA e-cycling efforts fall short
efforts have raised the profile of a growing national problem:
electronic waste. But the Environmental Protection Agency is not
forcing federal agencies or industry to do enough to deal with it,
according to government auditors.
A congressional working group, a
bill in the Senate and a Government Accountability Office report
released yesterday each call for a national plan to address the
problem. So far, the EPA has scoffed at requests to spearhead such a
In the United States, people dispose 3,000 tons of computers a
day. Each computer contains cadmium and mercury, which if disposed of
improperly can be harmful to people and the environment.
government disposes 10,000 computers a week, in addition to fax
machines, printers, copiers, cell phones and handheld devices. Some of
this electronics equipment ends up in landfills in the United States or
in landfills overseas, where environmental standards are generally
Now, a congressional e-waste working group, headed by Rep.
Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Mary Bono
(R-Calif.) and former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), has
co-sponsored an electronics recycling resolution that would direct
Congress to lead the nation by example
Under the measure, Congress
would coordinate a recycling program to reuse obsolete computers and
electronics equipment, in cooperation with the Congressional Budget
Office, the Architect of the Capitol and other legislative branch
Thompson, who introduced the motion last month, noted,
“before we can enact a national plan, Congress needs its own plan to
properly dispose of its own e-waste.”
The one main challenge in
dealing with a growing heap of systems and circuitry is money. “Who’s
going to pay is really kind of the crux of the dialogue that we face in
the e-waste working group, Alan Snyder, legislative assistant to Rep.
Slaughter said. “We’re really at a crossroads at this point. Industry
is split on who should pay. Retailers are split as well.”
involves the cost of removing data from hard drives, transporting and
inspecting equipment, and repackaging useful parts. Some federal
agencies pay for e-cycling from their existing budgets through a
variety of specialized contracting programs.
The task force’s
founding purpose was to agree on a federal approach, generate
enthusiasm on Capitol Hill and pass legislation. So far, the working
group has held two hearings with the House Committee on Energy and
Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials.
May 24, the day the group was formed, the members co-sponsored a
congressional staff briefing at which Ben Wu, the Commerce Department’s
assistant secretary for technology policy, said he was planning to
release a Technology Administration white paper with an e-waste
roadmap. As of the past week, the Technology Administration had not
issued the document.
Meanwhile, the Senate is also in the early stages of trying to mandate e-cycling nationwide.
Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) said the federal government
should provide financial incentives for recycling. Last March, they
introduced the Electronic Waste Recycling Promotion and Consumer
Protection Act that would require federal executive agencies to
remanufacture or recycle all display screens and system units that they
buy. The bill would offer tax credits to consumers and companies that
do the same.
The bill would also direct the EPA to calculate the
costs and benefits of creating a national e-waste recycling program. It
was referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
The GAO released a
report yesterday recommending the EPA draft legislation for a
nationwide financing system to make e-cycling easier for consumers,
companies and government. The study also states EPA should require
federal agencies to buy “green” electronics, reduce the environmental
impact of electronics products during their use and dispose of obsolete
electronics in an environmentally safe way.
have to pay fees and drop off their used electronics at often
inconvenient locations to have them recycled or refurbished for reuse,”
according to GAO letter. The letter was addressed to several senators,
including Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Environment and Public
Works Committee Sen. Jim Jeffords (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate
Subcommittee on Superfund and Waste Management John Thune (R-S.D.),
Talent and Wyden.
Local governments cannot fund curbside pickup for
recycling used electronics because it is too expensive. Currently,
federal law allows hazardous used electronics in municipal landfills.
its part, industry is divided between two potential solutions to the
economic problem. One, an advanced recovery fee, involves placing an
additional fee on a product at the point of sale. The other, extended
producer responsibility, requires product manufacturers to assume
financial and physical responsibility for taking back their products
for recycling or reuse.
Although manufacturers surveyed by the GAO
had individual preferences on a financing mechanism, all said they
wanted a single national system.
Two different systems for e-cycling
exist in California and Maine, suggesting that without a national
approach, a patchwork of potentially conflicting state requirements is
developing, GAO officials wrote. Piecemeal approaches, they added,
might increase costs for manufacturers, retailers and recyclers.
manufacturer in one state, for example, may have an advance recovery
fee placed on its products; whereas in another state, the same
manufacturer may have to take back its products and pay for recycling.
Hewlett-Packard serves as one example,” the auditors’ report states.
An HP official told GAO officials that conflicting state systems would require start-up costs of more than $2 million per state.
the past years, the EPA has spent $2 million on multiple voluntary
programs to help overcome some of the factors preventing e-cycling.
program-the Federal Electronics Challenge-leverages U.S. government
purchasing power to promote environmentally responsible management of
used electronics throughout their life cycle.
To date, however, only 61 of thousands of federal facilities participate in the FEC, GAO officials said in their report
major reason for the limited federal participation in this and other
EPA electronics recycling programs is that, unlike other successful
federal procurement programs, participation is not required,” the
EPA officials disagreed with GAO’s recommendations
that the agency develop a legislative proposal for financing e-cycling
nationwide and that it require federal agencies to participate in
Responding to a draft of the GAO report, Thomas
Dunne, EPA acting assistant administrator of the Office of Solid Waste
and Emergency Response, wrote, “EPA is not in the best position to
choose between competing financing solutions, given that this decision
is one that is fundamentally a business and economic issue, rather than
an environmental issue.”
Dunne said the EPA would gladly advise the
congressional e-waste working group if the group took responsibility
for drafting a national financing bill.
Regarding EPA’s contention
that it would be inappropriate for an environmental agency to develop a
nationwide financing system, GAO officials said the EPA has done so
The EPA played a central role in developing the Clean Water
State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs.
Those programs help communities meet their water infrastructure needs
and are inexpensive to the federal government.
Dunne also argued
that GAO had understated federal participation in the FEC, considering
the program was launched only a year ago. He wrote in the Oct. 14
letter that 12 agencies that are responsible for more than 80 percent
of federal information technology purchases have participated in the
program to date.
GAO officials reported that participation means
they have set goals to improve recycling practices, not implemented the
goals. “As a practical matter,” they wrote, “61 out of thousands of
federal facilities participate in the program, and only five of these
are meeting electronic product management criteria that the program’s
steering committee has asked them to attain.