E-cycling task force forms

Congressional lawmakers today launched the E-waste Working Group.

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, Cunningham said.

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 voluntary.

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 e-waste.

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 program.

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 problem."

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 program," Voss said.

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