E-Waste: Track Me If You Can

Last October, US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson visited Giuyu, China, arguably the world’s most famous e-waste site.  Following the visit, attention to the issue of global e-waste has been intensifying.  So has talk of end-of-life product stewardship and regulations thereof.  Such regulations would have huge impact on supply networks in the US and elsewhere.

So far, end-of-life regulations in America have been on a state-by-state level.  Increasingly, there are murmurings of federal, even global, restrictions on disposal. EPA’s end-of-life regulations for electronics would be similar to WEEE but US-based.

Tracking and managing all these moving parts — literally in terms of components and figuratively in the form of data — is poised to become the next great supply network data management challenge.  Keep an eye on waste management facilities and services in the coming four quarters; likely to see new products and services there as well as M&A activity.  This activity comes down to scrambling for product stewardship management and associated dollars.

EPA awards $2.5 million towards e-waste tracking. In March earlier this year, Chelsey Drysdale wrote in PDC&F that environmental groups have been urging the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to issue a policy requiring federal agencies not be permitted to export used electronics to developing nations.

Earlier this morning, May 2, 2011, EPA announced it had awarded a grant to the United Nations University (UNU) to help curb rising pollution and health problems associated with discarded electronics.  The agency said the five-year, $2.5 million grant will help authorities track shipments of North American electronic waste and provide support to nations in both Africa and Asia coping with e-waste imports.  Those imports would include end-of-life computers, TVs, and cell phones.

Again:  tracking and managing all these moving parts — literally in terms of components and figuratively in the form of data — is poised to become the next great data management challenge. The good news is that end-of-life tracking is easier than our current challenge of supplier product ingredient visibility [see previous post, “Product Ingredients: say can you see?“].

“The electronics that improve our everyday lives often end up discarded in developing countries where improper disposal can threaten the health of local people and the environment,” said Michelle DePass, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs. “EPA recognizes this urgent concern and is committed to working with domestic and international partners to address these issues.”

Is that a regulation?  No.  It is a preliminary call to action for US-based electronics manufacturers and distributors?  Absolutely.

It’s 12:00: Do you know where your e-waste is going?

Track it if you can.