EPA takes aim at increasing national electronics recycling

The U.S. Environmental Protection is seeking to draw attention to the low rates of electronics recycling in American households.

Lisa Feldt, Deputy Assistant Administrator EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, said at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ annual Convention and Expo in Las Vegas last month that Americans should be recycling their old electronics at the same rate they are purchasing new ones.

“Consumer Electronics Association reports in 2009, Americans purchased more than 438 million new consumer electronics,” Feldt said. “The average household has more than 20 electronics, if you count TVs, computers, cell phones, mp3 players, printers, VCRs, DVDs, game systems, stereo systems.”

“All these electronics that are in the marketplace right now will have to be responsibly managed,” Feldt said. “The arsenal of electronics is nothing in comparison to what the federal government owns. The federal government is the largest consumer of IT products in the world. All together, the federal government spent $80 billion in electronic goods and services in 2010 alone.”

Feldt said that 2.73 million tons of electronics were discarded in 2009. And, only 25 percent of that is recycled, while the rest is in landfills.

She said the EPA wants to increase that percentage.

“These percentages tell us there is more work to be done,” Feldt said. “All used electronics in the U.S. are to be responsibly managed. The EPA and the federal government are defining responsibly managed as recyclers that have shown to an accredited third-party certification that they must meet or exceed the industries standards.”

The Federal Government should lead the way in the electronics recycling arena, she said, pointing to the new national framework for electronics stewardship introduced by the Obama Administration.

The framework seeks to:

– build incentives for electronics companies to produce greener electronics, using fewer toxic materials and making reuse easier;

– have the government lead by example by establishing an end-of-life management policy that ensures electronics used by the federal government are handled safely and securely by certified recyclers;

– improve used electronics management and handling practices in the U.S. by launching voluntary partnerships with the electronics industry and gathering and providing public access to information on quantities and movement of used electronics within the U.S.; and

– reduce potential harm from U.S. exports of electronic scrap and improve electronics recycling practices in developing nations. This means improving information on trade flows and handling of used electronics while providing technical assistance and partnerships with developing countries to better manage used electronics.

“Together federal agencies will ensure the sustainability of support and sustain American’s role in electronics,” Feldt said.

Feldt said at last count there were 215 recycling and refurbishing facilities across the U.S., adding the EPA is developing a Google Earth map where recyclers are located She said she expects the map to be on the agency’s website by summer of this year.

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