New legislation in the U.S. Congress would prohibit U.S. companies from exporting hazardous electronic waste to developing nations where some computers, monitors, and electronic devices are recycled in primitive conditions.
The Responsible Electronic Recycling Act, introduced in the House of Representatives Wednesday, would create a new category of restricted electronic waste that cannot be exported to India, China, Nigeria, and other nations. The bill aims to stop U.S. companies from dumping dangerous old electronics on countries where they are broken apart or burned by workers using few safety precautions, said Representative Gene Green, a Texas Democrat and cosponsor of the bill.
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In some countries, workers burn electronics in open pits as a way to separate materials, said Representative Mike Thompson, a California Democrat and cosponsor of the bill. In some places, children tear apart e-waste from the U.S., he said.
Children are "picking through this stuff and exposing themselves to dangerous chemicals," Thompson said during a press conference. "It's just an absolute mess."
The bill will create "green" jobs in the U.S. by keeping e-waste recycling processes in the country, Green said. "There's a value in used electronic equipment, and currently, there are small, domestic recyclers that process this equipment safely," he said. "But they have a hard time competing with facilities overseas that have few, if any, environmental and safety standards."
Many U.S. e-waste recyclers take the valuable parts from discarded electronic devices and then ship the rest overseas, said Dewayne Burns, CEO of eSCO Processing and Recycling in Arkansas. Loopholes in e-waste export laws discourage more responsible recyclers from getting into e-waste services, he said.
"The lack of boundaries in our industry is what allows our waste to end in undeveloped countries," he said. "Without structure, this business cannot have the positive impact that it could or should in the U.S. today."
The bill will allow the U.S. e-waste industry to grow, he added. "This bill is the right thing for the environment, and it puts America back to work," he said.
The U.S. Governmental Accountability Office, in a September 2008 report, said harmful e-waste shipments from the U.S. are "virtually unrestricted" because of minimal enforcement and narrow regulations.
Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Apple, and Best Buy were among the companies voicing support for the bill. The new export rules are "the right thing to do," said Ashley Watson, HP's chief ethics and compliance officer. HP does not have concerns that the legislation would increase the cost of e-waste recycling, she said.
Some environmental groups, including the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and the Natural Resources Defense Council, also support the bill.
A similar bill was scheduled to be introduced in the Senate this week.