Last Thursday, Best Buy announced that it has eliminated the $10 recycling fee for electronics items with screens to make its recycling program more convenient for customers.
Consumers can now drop off items with screens up to 32 inches for tube televisions and 60 inches for flat-panel televisions for free. In addition to TVs, consumers can recycle computer monitors, DVD players, audio and video cables, cell phones and other electronics for free. Best Buy said it only works with certified third-party electronics recyclers, which must carry either the R2 or eStewards certification.
According to their spokesperson, Kelly Groehler says, "We wanted to make it easier for consumers. We want to encourage this as much as possible."
In 2010, the company collected 83 million pounds of electronics and wants to collect more than 1 billion pounds of electronics by the end of 2014.
As more businesses and states recognize the importance of recycling e-waste responsibly and domestically, the case for a national e-waste export law becomes stronger than ever. There's a e-waste export bill in Congress, Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, that is supported by many recyclers and retailers.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), partners in a “National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship,” are committed to promoting the recycling of electronics and advancing a domestic market for electronics recycling that will protect public health, prevent pollution and create jobs.
Recently, these two agencies toured e-Green Management of Islip Terrace, New York to highlight the environmental, public health and economic benefits of recycling electronics domestically and responsibly.
In a press release, EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck said,
"The growing electronics recycling industry has the potential to create new economic and environmental opportunities. Our work with businesses like e-Green Management means that more of our nation’s electronics will be handled responsibly, and more jobs will be created.”
And GSA Regional Administrator Denise L. Pease,
The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, introduced in the summer, would prohibit U.S. recyclers from dumping electronic waste on developing countries and to promote recycling jobs at home. The House bill has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Gene Green (D-TX), Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Steve LaTourette (R-OH). The bill has support from recyclers and businesses such as Coalition for American Electronics Recycling, which includes 29 U.S. companies involved in all aspects of the domestic electronics recycling and disposition industry, with 74 recycling operations in 34 states. The legislation is also supported by major electronics manufacturers and retailers, including Hewlett Packard, Dell, Apple, Samsung and Best Buy, as well as environmental organizations.
Currently, electronic waste is exported to developing countries by many U.S recyclers, to be bashed, burned, flushed with acids, and melted down in unsafe conditions in developing countries. The plastics in the imported electronics are typically burned outdoors, which can emit deadly dioxin or furans, which are breathed in by workers and nearby residents. Other issues include lead, mercury and arsenic contamination to local water supplies, as well as pollution to soil and air, for entire communities.
While there are 25 states that e-waste recycling laws, California being one of them, there is little that states can do in terms of regulating export of e-waste because it would violate the Commerce Clause. US Congress has a pivotal role in addressing this problem.
With new gadgets released every day, and the holiday season coming up, consumers worldwide are throwing out many perfectly functional old phones.
According to a US EPA study, Electronics Waste Management in the United States Through 2009 (.pdf), sales of mobile devices have seen the most dramatic increase. While cell phones can last for many years, many people upgrade their phones every 18 months. Apple alone sold 4 million units of the new iPhone 4S on its release weekend, soundly beating the previous iPhone launch record of 1.7 million.
Americans bought more than 32 million televisions, 132 million computers and computer accessories, and 216 million mobile phones in 2009, according to US EPA. All the old devices have to go somewhere - sometimes getting sold online or gathering dust in the garage, but many of them end up getting tossed in the landfill or shipped overseas.
What you can do:
The International Data Corporation (IDC) conducted a survey that found the U.S. electronics recycling industry is worth about $5 billion dollars, employing more than 30,000 workers and recycling about 3.5 million tons of e-waste last year.
“This survey shows a booming electronics recycling industry and prescribes a clear path for even more growth,” said ISRI President Robin Wiener. “Electronics recyclers are creating American jobs, adopting an industry standard that will help sustain growth and are recycling electronics here at home.”
The survey also found that while American households account for most of the new electronics market, they only contribute about 26% to the electronics recycling market.
While there are currently 25 states with an e-waste law but the federal government needs to restrict the export of e-waste and remaining states to pass e-waste recycling laws.
Wiener said, “Increasing household recycling of electronics is a clear challenge that must be addressed by incentivizing the collection of used household equipment. Tapping into this market will create even more jobs here at home and significantly reduce the amount of electronics that end up in a landfill.”
This year, states are strengthening their existing e-waste program, including Texas, Maine and now Illinois. Just yesterday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed SB 2106 into law, a bill which would expand recyclable electronics to include such products as “keyboards, portable music devices, scanners, VCRs, and video game consoles,” according to the Herald News.
The law extends the state´s landfill ban on electronics to included keyboards, portable music devices, scanners, video game consoles and other items. The old law included computer monitors, televisions and printers. The law also sets a 40% recycling goal by 2012 for product manufacturers in the state, and increases fines seven fold.
The law is expected to boost economic growth in the area, the article reports, “According to the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the new goals mean that statewide e-recycling will increase from 28 million pounds in 2011 to over 50 million in 2012, a dramatic increase also expected to create jobs."
Director of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson, along with General Services Administrator Martha N. Johnson, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, and industry representatives, revealed the Interagency Task Force’s "National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship” at an electronic waste facility in Austin, TX.
The main aspects of the policy are outlined below:
1. Encourage General Services Administration to use its purchasing power to promote greener products, and to get involved in the standards setting processes.
2. Support recycling options for consumers.
3. Support research on electronics recycling.
4. Recommend that the government support ratification of the Basel Convention
To read more details about each objective, read the Task Force Report.
While this is a good start, what is missing is a clear mandate on banning export of electronic waste. Recently, the US Congress introduced HR 2284, otherwise known as the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act. This bill is supported by C4R, and would prohibit the dumping of electronic waste to developing countries, while simultaneously promoting recycling jobs at home. This bill was initially introduced to Congress two years ago, but never became law.
Vermont residents, charities, schools and small businesses will now be able to recycle their e-waste for free, starting today. Covered devices under the program includes computers, monitors, printers, computer peripherals and TVs regardless of brand, are accepted for recycling.
This program is a result of a law passed last year that created a producer responsibility e-waste program, requiring electronic manufacturers to finance the cost of collecting and recycling their discarded products. In addition, the law banned the disposal of computers and other electronic devices that contain toxins in landfill, since January 2011.
HR 2284, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, was introduced yesterday in the House by U.S. Representatives Gene Green (D-TX) and Mike Thompson (D-CA). The measure would prohibit U.S. recyclers from dumping electronic waste on developing countries and to promote recycling jobs at home. 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. The bill enjoys bipartisan support, including sponsors Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and Lee Terry (R-NE).
Currently, electronic waste is exported to developing countries by many U.S recyclers, to be bashed, burned, flushed with acids, and melted down in unsafe conditions in developing countries. Eighty percent of children in Guiyu, China, a region where many “recycled” electronics wind up, have elevated levels of lead in their blood, due to the toxins in those electronics, much of which originates in the U.S. The plastics in the imported electronics are typically burned outdoors, which can emit deadly dioxin or furans, which are breathed in by workers and nearby residents.
According to Co-sponsor Rep. Green:
This bill accomplishes two things: first, it prevents hazardous material from being shipped where it will be mishandled and cause health and environmental damage; and second, it is a green jobs bill and will create work here in the U.S., processing these used products in safe ways. I applaud HP for leading on this issue and their responsible recycling.
Legislators bypassed Governor Paul LePage's veto pen for an expansion to the state's e-scrap product stewardship law on June 8th. LePage also previously proposed rolling back the state's recycling program. Legislators passed LD 981 (Rep. Innes) as an emergency bill, allowing schools, non-profit organizations and businesses with fewer than 100 employees to participate in Maine's household e-scrap recycling program. Currently, only households can participate in Maine’s e-waste program.
According to the author of the bill, Rep. Innes says:
Since 2004, this manufacturer financed program has recycled over 30 million pounds of electronics, 30 million pounds that most likely would have ended up in our landfills or burned in our energy plants, spewing toxic fumes into our air. Not only will this bill help protect our environment, but it will create much needed jobs as well.