A new bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to combat the country’s improper disposal of consumer electronics. The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (HR.2284) was presented in the House by Representatives Gene Green of Texas and Mike Thompson of California. The bill would ban exporting certain types of hazardous E-waste to other countries. The two Democrats and the bill’s supporters hope it will reduce health and environmental risks and even boost the economy by adding and keeping recycling jobs within the U.S.
Developing countries such as India, China, and Nigeria have few regulations concerning electronic waste disposal. As a result, the disposal methods used in these countries are extremely hazardous to the environment and to human health. E-recyclers in these countries have workers burn large amounts of e-waste and the materials and components left behind are picked apart and sorted. Workers also use corrosive chemicals to melt away plastic.
According Representative Thompson, in some countries, children are “picking through this stuff and exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals. It’s just an absolute mess.” In Guiyu, China, an area where a significant amount of electronic waste is shipped to, 80% of the children living there allegedly have high levels of lead in their blood because of the toxins and pollution released from burning and melting the waste electronics.
Additionally, the lack of legislation continues to entice some countries to export their e-waste to other countries. Despite the health risks and environmental damage it causes, some countries see the economic benefits of shipping out trashed electronics. Instead of disposing or recycling it themselves, sending e-waste to these developing countries is cheaper, for the most part. Although many producers of electronics have been publicizing how they are reducing their environmental impacts, some are also neglecting the impacts their products have when it is time for them to be disposed. Manufacturers should consider the entire life cycle of their products, from sourcing materials and production to the proper disposal or recycling of the product.
Across the US, many states have already set guidelines for the proper disposal and recycling of e-waste. However, individual states do not have the power to restrict the export of electronic waste; Representatives Green and Thompson believe the Federal government needs to step up in regulating e-waste export to other countries and set national guidelines for e-waste disposal.
In addition to regulating e-waste export, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act will allow the Department of Energy to research opportunities for recycling and recovering rare earth minerals from e-waste. These minerals can be used to produce computers and cell phones and also contributes to sustainability. They can be used to manufacture components of clean energy systems, such as solar panels, hybrid cars, and wind turbines.
The U.S. would benefit from a local source of rare earth minerals. China, which has 97% of the world’s supply, has raised prices and cut down on exporting these minerals because they themselves have increased demand or rare earth minerals within the country.
Lastly, the bill will address growing security concerns with exporting e-waste, such as computers which may contain confidential data. According to a 2009 Frontline/World report, the U.S. sent electronic waste to Ghana and amidst the waste were hard drives containing sensitive information from several government agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and NASA.
The bill is already gathering support from both Democrats and Republicans, and many leading consumer electronics companies, such as Apple, Best Buy, Dell, HP, and Samsung. Also, since it benefits the environment and the nation’s economy, supporters of the bill feel confident it will pass. Says Jim Puckett, of the Basel Action Network., “With it, we stop squandering critical metals resources, stop poisoning children, and we create good recycling industry jobs in the USA at the same time.”
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