Federal Governments Takes First Steps to Develop a National Strategy for Electronic Waste
Until recently the EPA, and Federal Government has barely monitored or acknowledge the disposal for ‘end of life electronics.’ On November 8th the Council of Environmental Integrity, established an interagency task force to develop a national strategy to improve handling of used electronics.
Currently, electronics are not viewed as hazardous or toxic waste by the United States Federal Government. Items such as CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors, laptops, televisions, and phones are classified as universal waste. This is a category of waste that is deemed “lower risk” hazardous waste. Right now there are no Federal electronic waste recycling laws. The Federal laws in place presently related to electronic waste require items containing mercury such as CRTs and light bulbs to be labeled as universal waste. Handlers must try to prevent spillage and leakage of universal waste and have a cleanup plan. Handlers of universal waste are subject to much lower export and handling standards then those who handle hazardous waste. For specific requirements involving universal waste management refer to http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastetypes/universal/mce.htm. Current policy leads to high exportation of electronics to China and Africa where they are “recycled” in substandard conditions.
Many experts such as Jim Puckett of The Basal Action Network believe electronics must be handled and regulated as hazardous waste. Electronic waste contains a myriad of toxic components including Mercury, Lead, Cadmium, Polybrominated Flame Retardants, Barium and Lithium. Even the plastic casings of electronics products contain Polyvinyl Chloride. The toxins found in electronic waste affect nearly every system in the human body. The health effects of these toxins on humans include birth defects, brain, heart, liver, kidney and skeletal system damage. They will also significantly affect the nervous and reproductive systems of the human body.
With recent attention to the issues involving electronic waste disposal, the President called on Federal Agencies to develop a national strategy for electronics stewardship, including procedures for how the agencies manage their own e-waste. The Council of Environmental Quality created the Interagency Task Force on Electronics Stewardship. Their mission is for American businesses, government and individuals to work together and manage electronics throughout the whole lifecycle. There deadline to produce a national frame work by May 2011, can’t come soon enough. For details on the plan see http://circuitsassembly.com/blog/?p=1694