UPDATE: Congress puts e-waste exports in crosshairs
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By Jeremy Carroll | WRN reporter

July 11 — A bill that would restrict electronic waste from being exported to developing countries was reintroduced in Congress, with the bill´s sponsors saying they were optimistic about its chances of passage.

But the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. said the bill would hurt American businesses and backfire against efforts to improve recycling abroad.

“Although many countries, including many in the European Union, have drafted laws to address electronic waste disposal and management, the United States does not have a comprehensive national approach for the disposal of used electronics,” said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, during a conference call with reporters.

Green, along with California Rep. Mike Thompson, introduced the

Responsible Electronics Recycling Act on June 22. Unlike previous versions of the bill, this one has Republican co-sponsors, Rep. Steven LaTourette from Ohio and Rep. Lee Terry from Nebraska.

The bill would establish a new category of restricted electronic waste that could not be exported to developing nations. Used equipment would still be exported for reuse as long as it has been tested and fully functional. In addition, recalled electronics would be allowed to be sent back to where they were manufactured.

Nonhazardous parts or materials would not be restricted under the bill.

Green said the bill would accomplish two main goals: provide jobs in America and keep the environment and workers safe.

“It would prevent this hazardous material from being shipped to where it will be mishandled and cause health and environmental damage,” Green said.

Thompson said there are areas in developing nations that will take the items and often burn plastic parts away to get the valuable metals inside.

“They have little kids, in violation of anything that could remotely be considered child labor protections, digging through this stuff and exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals,” he said. “It´s just an absolute mess.”

Dewayne Burns, CEO of Bentonville, Ark.-based eSCO Processing and Recycling, said e-waste is a fast-growing market.

“We don´t export e-waste, but unfortunately that is not the standard in our industry,” he said. “The lack of boundaries in our industry is what allows our e-waste to end up in undeveloped countries.”

The U.S. EPA estimated that in 2009, the U.S. generated more than 3.1 million tons of e-waste, with much of it being exported to developing nations. The Government Accountability Office recently determined that many of the developing countries lack the capacity to safely recycle and dispose of the used electronics.

Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, said the bill would hurt developing nations by shutting down efforts to develop safe and responsible recycling infrastructure.

“ISRI is committed to recycling responsibly and safety whether it´s done in Texas or Taizhou,” she said in a statement.

Eric Harris, ISRI associate counsel and director of international and government relations, said illegal polluters throughout the world should be put out of business, regardless if they are in a developing or developed country.

“What some policymakers fail to understand is that most of the used electronics being generated and recycled in developing countries originate in that country, not from U.S. exports,” he said.

For that reason, he said, stopping the export of e-waste from the U.S. will do nothing to solve the underlying problem.

Reps. Thompson and Green said various companies in the electronic industry support the measure, including Hewlett Packard, Apple, Dell and Samsung.

“We do not allow e-waste (from our company) to be exported from developed countries to developing countries,” said Ashley Watson, vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer with HP. “We support this act to be sure these standards are raised for the entire industry.”

Thompson said passage of the bill is already long overdue.

Previous versions of the bill, H.R. 2595 in 2009 and H.R. 6252 in 2010, were referred to committee, and hearings weren’t held for them. The latest version, H.R. 2284, was referred to a committee on science, space and technology.

A companion bill, S. 1270, was introduced in the Senate on June 23. That bill is being co-sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Contact Waste & Recycling News reporter Jeremy Carroll at 313-446-6780 or jcarroll@crain.com.

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