EPA Decides To Take e-Waste (Sort of) Seriously. Finally.

yellow chips electronics photo

Photo via Justin Beck via Flickr CC

The Environmental Protection Agency has been frustratingly lax on e-waste issues, paying little attention to quality enforcement of policies, or even putting stringent policies in place at all. But finally, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said on Tuesday that e-waste is now one of the top five priorities for the agency. While vague in exactly what the EPA would do to improve the immense problem of e-waste, it was at least put down in writing that it is a major concern, and one that will get at least some attention. GreenBiz reports:

In a memo from the meeting of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation in Guanajuato, Mexico, Jackson spelled out why e-waste has become a top-level concern for the administration:

"The electronics that provide us with convenience often end up discarded in developing countries where improper disposal can threaten local people and the environment," Jackson wrote. "EPA recognizes this urgent concern and will work with international partners to address the issues of e-waste. In the near-term, EPA will focus on ways to improve the design, production, handling, reuse, recycling, exporting and disposal of electronics."

The Basel Action Network, one of the biggest advocates for environmental responsibility in the electronics industry, as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental advocacy groups have all been on the EPA to toughen up their policies, especially bans on e-waste exports. Most of the time, electronics are exported to developing nations where they end up being disassembled in dumps with the worst practices for both the environment and the humans working in and living nearby. By requiring companies to go through responsible recyclers here in the US, damage to people and the planet is minimized. However, the expense of it keeps most manufacturers bending the rules wherever they can, though some, like Dell and HP, have taken proactive steps and pledged responsible recycling practices on their own.

Exports of e-waste are expected to skyrocket, landing mainly in China and India. A recent report stated that India will experience a 500% increase in e-waste over the next decade, and China and South Africa will likely see a 400% increase by 2017. So for the EPA, it's now or never if they want to play a prominent role in protecting the environment from electronic waste.

GreenBiz also reports that earlier this year, Acer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony Ericsson joined in a call for the European Union to ban toxics in electronics, focusing mainly on PVC and BFRs -- two toxins that Greenpeace has been adamant about getting companies to eliminate altogether. These are especially harmful when gadgets end up in e-waste dumps.

Along with e-waste, the EPA has decided its top priorities are:
• Building Strong Environmental Institutions and Legal Structures;
• Combating Climate Change by Limiting Pollutants;
• Improving Air Quality;
• Expanding Access to Clean Water; and
• Reducing Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

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More on e-Waste
It's Time to Say Goodbye to e-Waste: Why Our Gadgets are Toxic to Developing Nations
Europe E-Waste Exports Continue, Despite Ban; U.S. Exports More, With No Ban At All
US Proposal for Ban on e-Waste Exports Won't Solve - and Could Worsen - the Problem

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