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March 06, 2013
SWANA issues e-recycling policy

In January 2013, the International Board of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) approved a policy on the safe recycling of electronic wastes.

The action is typical of the ongoing interest of both industry and all levels of government in ensuring that this growing wastestream is managed in an environmentally responsible manner.  SWANA’s action followed, by 1 month, convictions in a first-of-its-kind criminal case involving the illegal export of electronic waste by a Colorado company.

Ensure recycling is available

SWANA says it supports the following policy positions on responsible recycling of electronic waste:

  • Regional and local governments should endeavor to ensure that flexible and cost-effective recycling options that meet applicable state and local requirements are available to all households and businesses within their jurisdictions.
  • Federal governments should ensure that options are available for the reuse and/or recycling of electronic waste (e-waste) generated by all federal departments and agencies.
  • All levels of government should require that recycling facilities comply with enforceable worker safety, public health, and environmental standards.  Requiring recycling facilities to be certified under recognized, national recycling certification programs would facilitate compliance.
  • Federal and international programs and conventions should prohibit the international shipment of e-waste to facilities that do not comply with standards for worker safety and public health and the environment or to countries that do not have regulatory programs to enforce such standards.
  • Before implementing a ban or restriction on the disposal of e-waste, infrastructure must be in place to regulate, collect, store, transport, reuse, recycle, or remanufacture the e-waste.
  • Owners/operators of solid waste facilities should be protected from liability for the inadvertent disposal of banned e-waste if they carry out waste screening programs in accordance with the provision of the facility permits and have made good-faith efforts to post signs and notify haulers that covered electronics are not accepted by the facility.

Alleged fraud

In the Colorado case, a jury found two officials with a recycling company guilty of multiple counts of mail and wire fraud; environmental crimes related to the illegal disposal of electronic waste, including more than 100,000 cathode-ray tubes (CRTs); smuggling; and obstruction.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Colorado, the defendants knowingly devised a scheme to defraud business and government entities who wanted to recycle their e-waste in the United States.  Instead, the defendants sold the e-waste they received from customers to brokers for export overseas to the People’s Republic of China and other countries.  Each defendant faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines of $500,000 to $750,000.

No U.S. law

Requirements affecting e-waste and e-recycling at the federal level are limited.  Mainly, companies must provide the EPA with notifications before exporting broken or used CRTs.  Also, the Agency has issued a rule that conditionally exempts CRTs and CRT glass destined for recycling from the federal hazardous waste management standards.  In March 2012, the U.S. General Services Administration issued new guidelines banning all federal agencies from disposing of e-waste in landfills and instructing them to direct all e-waste to certified recyclers.

There have been multiple attempts in Congress to pass a national law covering e-waste, so far without success.  However, about 40 states have laws or regulatory programs governing the recycling and/or environmentally safe disposal of e-waste. 

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