EPA encouraged to augment electronic waste management programs

GAO recommends an integrated strategy for agency's voluntary partnership programs

The Environmental Protection Agency should develop an integrated strategy for its many voluntary partnership programs that encourage the recycling of electronic waste such as used computers, according to government auditors.

Some of the EPA’s collaborative efforts to improve how such waste is handled have shown quantifiable benefits, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Aug. 11. However, the EPA hasn’t systematically examined those programs to determine how their positive affects can be augmented or developed an integrated strategy for how the programs, taken together, can be most useful, the auditors said.

The EPA regulates the management of used electronics that are considered to be hazardous waste and promotes voluntary programs with manufacturers, recyclers and other interested groups. Various states have enacted electronic recycling laws. There is a lack of a comprehensive national approach, GAO said.

There is widespread agreement on the benefits of reusing and recycling electronics in ways that are environmentally friendly, said the auditors, who surveyed many of the entities affected by current regulations. The auditors also found that people’s opinions differed on the current regulatory regime that consists of varying state laws.

Electronics manufacturers, retailers and recyclers considered the increasing number of state laws to be a compliance burden, GAO said. State and local solid waste management officials, on the other hand, supported the states taking a leading role, GAO found.


Related story:

E-cycling gets into gear


The auditors said options to further promote environmentally sound handling of used electronics range from relying on the states programs to establishing federal standards through legislation. EPA doesn’t have a plan for coordinating its programs with state recycling programs.

EPA agreed with GAO’s recommendations that it:

  • Examine the agency’s partnership programs for handling used electronics with a focus on how they can be augmented to develop an integrated strategy for them.
  • Work with other federal agencies to finalize a legislative proposal that would be needed for ratifying the Basel Convention, a related multilateral environmental agreement.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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