FED’S APPROACHE TO E-CYCLING,PIERCEMEAL
FED’S APPROACHE TO E-CYCLING,PIERCEMEAL
2005-05-31 at 9:35:00 am #9535E-cycling task force
E-cycling group launches to
educate Congress on e-wasteCongressional lawmakers this week launched the E-waste
The group aims to educate members of Congress about the
problem of electronic waste in the United States and find solutions for it.
Reps. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Louise
Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Mary Bono (R-Calif.) will lead the task force. Electronic
recycling has not gotten the attention it needs from the federal government,
Ben Wu, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for
technology policy, and Matt Hale, director of the Environmental Protection
Agency’s Office of Solid Waste, addressed the House staffers at this afternoon’s
briefing, which was titled “Electronic Device Recycling: Is a National
Implementation Approach Necessary?”
Wu plans to release a Technology Administration white paper
soon about e-waste.
Each week, the federal government disposes an average of
10,000 computers, along with fax machines, printers, copiers, wireless phones
and handheld devices. Some of this equipment winds up in landfills or overseas,
where environmental standards are generally lower. Experts say that mishandled
electronics waste releases toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury, chromium,
cadmium and beryllium into the environment.
The federal government has a variety of programs for
electronics recycling, or e-cycling, but most of them are piecemeal and
Officials may be able to offset their recycling costs
through a share-in-savings program in which agencies would share a portion of
the proceeds of e-cycling with the contractor hired to dispose of the
Liquidity Services, an EPA contractor, has agreed to cover
all upfront costs for safely disposing obsolete electronics and for refurbishing
and remarketing electronics that can still be used. The share-in-savings program
is open to all federal agencies, said Bill Angrick, the company’s chairman and
chief executive officer.
The company sells electronics online, typically through
auctions and marketplaces such as Liquidation.com and Government Liquidation,
both subsidiaries of Liquidity Services.
EPA officials awarded a contract to the company in December
2004 under the agency’s Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition Services
program. Seven other companies hold governmentwide contracts under the same
A bill that Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.)
introduced in March, the Electronic Waste Recycling Promotion and Consumer
Protection Act, would require federal executive agencies to remanufacture or
recycle all display screens and system units that they buy and would offer tax
credits to consumers and companies that do the same.
EPA contracting officer Oliver Voss, who oversees the
federal e-cycling share-in-savings program, said he is encouraged by today’s
announcement and hopes the issue is tackled in federal government agencies, as
well as by federal government legislators.
“It’s about time someone took this thing seriously,” Voss
said. “I’m glad that a few Congress members are finally recognizing the
Voss said he hopes federal agencies will follow the
congressional members’ lead. To date, only four EPA regions have issued orders
from the e-cycling contracts, though the services are open to all federal
departments. “There’s not really any congressmen that are helping us push the
________________________________________________________Federal approaches to
e-cycling largely piecemealExperts estimate that U.S. businesses and consumers dumped
more than 150 million tons of electronics equipment in 2004. To reduce such
large-scale dumping and its environmental consequences, some lawmakers say the
federal government should provide financial incentives for recycling such waste,
perhaps even create a mandatory national electronics recycling program.
That could happen if Congress passes a bill that Sens. Ron
Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) introduced in March. The Electronic Waste
Recycling Promotion and Consumer Protection Act would require federal executive
agencies to remanufacture or recycle all display screens and system units that
they buy and would offer tax credits to consumers and companies that do the
The bill would also direct the Environmental Protection
Agency to calculate the costs and benefits of creating a national e-waste
recycling program. Such a program would impose new regulations and would likely
face opposition from the solid waste industry and its supporters.
A variety of programs exist now for making the federal
government a better environmental citizen through electronics recycling, or
e-cycling, but most of those programs are piecemeal and voluntary.
Through public awareness campaigns, for example, EPA
officials have made some progress toward improving agencies’ recycling efforts.
But for the federal government to substantially reduce its electronics waste, as
the Wyden-Talent bill proposes, agencies may need to make significant new
expenditures. The Defense Department and General Services Administration, which
profit from their electronics waste, are exceptions.
The federal government disposes of 10,000 computers a week,
in addition to fax machines, printers, copiers, cell phones and handheld
devices. Some of this electronics equipment winds up in landfills or overseas,
where environmental standards are generally lower. Experts say that the
mishandling of electronics waste releases toxic chemicals such as lead, mercury,
chromium, cadmium and beryllium into the environment.
Concern about costs
Many agency officials view the upfront costs of recycling
as a burden. Recycling involves additional expenditures for removing data from
hard drives, transporting and inspecting equipment, and repackaging useful
Federal agencies pay for e-cycling out of their existing
budgets through a variety of specialized contracting programs, including one
that just became available. Officials may be able to offset their recycling
costs through a share-in-savings program in which agencies would share a portion
of the proceeds of recycling with the contractor hired to dispose of the
Liquidity Services, an EPA contractor, has agreed to cover
all upfront costs for safely disposing of obsolete electronics and for
refurbishing and remarketing electronics that can still be used. The
share-in-savings program is open to all federal agencies, said Bill Angrick, the
company’s chairman and chief executive officer.
The company sells electronics items online, typically
through auctions and marketplaces such as http://www.liquidation.com and
http://www.govliquidation.com. Liquidity attracts potential customers by publishing
digital photos of used equipment online and offering customers the option of
inspecting the equipment firsthand at various storage sites.
EPA officials awarded a contract to Liquidity in December
2004 under the agency’s Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition program.
Seven other companies hold governmentwide contracts under the same program.
Other voluntary federal efforts are under way to promote
e-cycling. The interagency Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, whose
mission is to promote sustainable environmental stewardship throughout the
federal government, advises agencies on e-cycling. One of its programs, the
Federal Electronics Challenge, assists federal agencies and federally owned
facilities with buying “green” electronics products, reducing the environmental
impact of electronics products during their use and disposing of obsolete
electronics in an environmentally safe way.
Created in 2004, the program now includes participants from
the Department of Health and Human Services Department, GSA, DOD and the Energy,
Homeland Security and Transportation departments.
Making money e-cycling
Although e-cycling is generally viewed as an unpopular
expense, some federal agencies make money on their electronics waste through a
process known as “demanufacturing.” Through its Defense Reutilization and
Marketing Service (DRMS), DOD uses remanufacturing to recycle 95% of its used
Under contracts with three companies that sell reusable
components — Global Investment Recovery, the NTC Group and MOLAM International —
DOD’s electronics waste is separated into metallic and nonmetallic scrap for
recycling. DRMS officials say the companies use procedures that prevent
hazardous metals from harming the environment.
DRMS has demanufactured about 165 million pounds of used
electronics since February 1999, an inventory that includes televisions,
computers and munitions. In fiscal 2003, DRMS paid contractors about $680,000 to
process about 34 million pounds of used electronics. By fiscal 2004, DRMS was
earning money — about $945,000 for nearly 27.8 million pounds of electronics
Other federal agencies have managed to find creative ways
to dispose of their electronics waste. Through online auctions, for example, GSA
officials have generated $2.13 million from the sale of surplus, seized and
forfeited electronics since 2001 when they began holding such auctions. They
have auctioned electronic headsets, handsets, microphones and speakers,
generators, computers, phonographs, radios and televisions.
NASA officials have used donations to schools to dispose of
about 5,000 pieces of electronics equipment.
Questioning the problem
Despite environmentalists’ support for mandated e-cycling,
some critics of government regulation argue that laws for e-recycling and
eco-friendly disposal would stifle innovation and force vendors to pass on the
costs to customers. Dana Joel Gattuso, an adjunct scholar at the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, a business-oriented think tank, recently released a report
titled “Mandated Recycling of Electronics: A Lose-Lose-Lose Proposition.”
Gattuso argues against what she describes as hysteria about
electronics waste. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there that’s giving the
impression that the e-waste situation is now a crisis,” she said.
In the report, Gattuso blames eco-activists for common
fallacies, including a belief that the nation is running out of landfills; that
lead, mercury and heavy metals are contaminating the soil and water; and that
the amount of e-waste is growing at an alarming rate.
Gattuso also asserts that no scientific evidence exists to
prove that substances from e-waste in municipal landfills present a significant
risk to human health or the environment.
EPA officials say that some environmentalists’ views on the
e-cycling situation are extreme. And agency officials have not taken a position
on what solutions, other than voluntary partnerships, are necessary to increase
Dale Kemery, an EPA spokesman, said that although EPA
officials believe the United States should look for a better way to deal with
e-waste than dumping it in landfills, they differ with some environmentalists on
the degree to which they view modern municipal landfills as a serious
“We believe that municipal landfills designed and managed
according to EPA’s updated  criteria for such landfills are protective,
including for electronic waste,” Kemery said. “Several studies over the years
have shown that leachate from municipal landfills for most metals is at levels
below the drinking water standards.”
Kemery added that EPA officials think the e-waste issue is
an important challenge for now and the future, but it is not a