Lawmakers, industry tackle e-waste

Lawmakers have taken a step toward tackling the thorny issue of regulating the nationwide electronic waste problem by gathering major stakeholders to reach a consensus.

The bipartisan Congressional E-Waste Working Group held a forum Sept. 13 for electronics retailers, recyclers, environmental groups and state officials to decide on a uniform solution for the disposal of obsolete electronics.

Currently, a web of manufacturer e-recycling programs, state laws and local voluntary initiatives exists.

A recent Commerce Department report found that such disparate requirements could lead to uncertainties, inefficiencies and high compliance costs for companies.

The working group, formed in 2005, includes Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Mary Bono (R-Calif.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.).

“Rather than having a patchwork of state regulations and individual company policies, a federal solution may be a more effective approach,” Thompson said. “By bringing these groups together to sort through the options, we'll be a lot closer to finding a realistic way of decreasing the amount of e-waste ending up in our landfills."

Stakeholder participants discussed the role the federal government could play to reduce e-waste’s effects on the environment. They also addressed mechanisms to distribute responsibility for disposal.

Dell officials said they support a policy that would make manufacturers responsible for recovering and recycling their own brand products at no charge to consumers.

“The marketplace is best positioned to increase efficiency in collection, recycling and design of products, and any legislation should not include fees or creation of new government infrastructure for collecting and recycling electronics,” said Tod Arbogast, Dell’s sustainable-business manager.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that 100 million electronic devices become useless each year. The decomposition of these materials, which can release toxic materials into the environment, now accounts for more than 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of the metals in U.S. landfills.

The following organizations sent representatives to the meeting: Best Buy, Consumer Electronic Association, Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, Dell, Electronic Industries Alliance, Electronic Waste Recycling Program-California, Goodwill Industries International, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, International Scrap Recycling, Kodak, National Recycling Coalition, Panasonic, Product Stewardship Institute, Washington State Department of Ecology, Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Sony Electronics and CTIA-The Wireless Association.

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