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Federal Interagency Task Force Announces National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., July 21, 2011

On July 20, 2011, the U.S. Interagency Task Force on Electronic Stewardship (“Task Force”) announced the release of its National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship (“National Strategy”). President Obama created the Task Force by Presidential Proclamation in November 2010 to develop a national strategy for electronics stewardship and improve the federal government’s management of used electronics products and electronic waste. The Task Force is co-chaired by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and General Services Administration (GSA).

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson, and CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley announced the National Strategy with representatives from several electronics companies that voluntarily committed to participate in an EPA-industry partnership aimed at promoting environmentally sound management of used electronics. See EPA Press Release (July 20, 2011).

The federal government is the world’s largest consumer of electronics products. To address management of its used electronics, the Task Force identified four overarching goals:

  1. Build incentives for design of greener electronics, and enhance science, research, and technology development in the United States.
  2. Ensure that the federal government leads by example.
  3. Increase safe and effective management and handling of used electronics in the United States.
  4. Reduce harm from US exports of e-waste and improve safe handling of used electronics in developing countries.

Under each goal, the Task Force also identified a number of Action Items, which are further supported by specific projects identified in an on-line annex of benchmarks (“Benchmarks Annex”). Some notable action items include; for example:

  • In support of the first goal, the Task Force commits to federal agency engagement in expansion of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (“EPEAT”) program, a procurement standard that allows manufacturers to register products according to their performance against numerous environmental criteria.  EPEAT currently applies only to laptops, desktops and monitors, though a standard for printers and other imaging devices is under development.
  • Under the second goal, the Task Force recognizes that the federal government is the largest generator of used electronics in the United States and commits to strengthening policies that govern the disposition of used electronics by the federal government. This action item aims to create a comprehensive and transparent government-wide policy that, among other things, ensures that all federal electronics are processed by certified recyclers and aligns federal management of used electronics with best management practices that favors reuse of functional devices, requires use of certified recyclers for non-functioning devices and consistent data destruction procedures, and prohibits the disposal of any used federal electronics devices in landfills.
  • In support of the third goal, increasing the safe and effective management and handling of used electronics in the United States, the Task Force commits to launching a voluntary partnership with the electronics industry to increase the collection and handling of used electronics using recyclers that have been certified under a third-party certification program (R2 or e-Stewards). The Task Force indicates that use of certified recyclers will be “a floor” for voluntary initiatives to increase the safe handling and management of used electronics.
  • Under the fourth goal, the Task Force commits to supporting ratification of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

The Benchmarks Annex identifies specific projects directed at achieving each action item and goal. For each project, the Benchmarks Annex also identifies lead agencies and target dates for completion. Notable near-term projects include:

  • EPA will seek commitments from the electronics industry to use certified recyclers and provide data in a transparent manner by summer 2011;
  • EPA and other agencies will convene stakeholder groups to address green design of electronics in fall 2011;
  • EPA and GSA will support development of new standards addressing products not currently covered by EPEAT;
  • EPA and other agencies will share with exporters concerns on the unsafe handling of used electronics exports abroad by December 31, 2011; and 
  • EPA will work with the US Department of State to “explore options for strengthening US participation in the Basel Convention, including options that would enable ratification” through ongoing efforts.

The National Strategy expands the federal government’s efforts to promote product stewardship for electronics.  It complements existing federal green procurement initiatives addressing many types of electronic devices and EPA rules governing the management and export of used cathode ray tube devices. In the absence of a comprehensive federal regulatory framework for e-waste, twenty-five states have enacted e-waste legislation covering the recovery and disposition of certain IT and consumer electronics such as computers, televisions, monitors, and printers. In Congress, H.R. 2284 has recently been introduced with a companion bill in the Senate to restrict the export of certain used electronic equipment and e-waste to developing countries.

At the international level, parties to the Basel Convention are preparing new technical guidelines aimed at improving the management of e-waste under the Convention. While the U.S. is not a party to the Convention, the U.S. has become more active in negotiations on the new e-waste technical guidelines. The guidelines are aimed at ensuring the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment and will be taken up at the COP-10 meeting planned for Cartagena, Columbia in October 2011.

For more information, please contact Paul Hagen at phagen@bdlaw.com or Jennifer Abdella at jabdella@bdlaw.com.

For a printable PDF of this article, please click here.

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