EPA, Dell, Sprint and Sony Have New E-Waste Policy

The US Environmental Protection Agency made a Big Announcement this week in Austin, TX, regarding e-waste and product stewardship — the announcement came as EPA head Lisa Jackson stood beside leaders from Sprint, Dell and Sony.

In Austin, EPA Administrator Jackson signed a voluntary commitment agreement with Dell CEO Michael Dell and Sprint CEO Dan Hesse to promote a US-based electronics recycling market. Sony Electronics Inc. representatives were apparently present and “also committed to improving the safe management of used electronics,” but it wasn’t clear whether they signed anything. But their presence indicates good intentions.

“Americans generate nearly 2.5 million tons of used electronics each year,” said Chris Nowak of Actio Corp., the New England-based company that tracks manufacturing regulations worldwide and bundles these findings into product stewardship compliance software.*

“This is a key commitment made today by Dell, Sony and Sprint,” Nowak said. “Evolving end-of-life policies such as these force designers, quality assurance personnel and manufacturers to think differently about their products and their product quality.”

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO, Dell Inc. said, regarding the stewardship initiative, “Last fiscal year, we diverted more than 150 million pounds of end-of-life electronics globally from landfills, and we are well on our way to meeting our goal of recycling 1 billion pounds by 2014. We encourage everyone in our industry to commit to easier, more responsible recycling as we all work to protect our planet.”

E-waste not, want not. Under the strategy announced today, the US General Services Administration (GSA) says if products do not comply with comprehensive and robust energy efficiency or environmental performance standards, those products will be removed from the information technology purchase contracts used by federal agencies.  GSA also says it will ensure that all electronics used by the Federal government are reused or recycled properly.

Key components of today’s announced strategy include:

  1. using certified recyclers
  2. increasing safe and effective management and handling of used electronics in the US
  3. working with industry in a collaborative manner to achieve that goal.

For more information on the EPA and industry collaboration, click here.

Electronics stew:  wardship and US policy. It’s not the first time we’ve heard rumblings of this sort. Last October, Lisa Jackson visited China — including a site visit to Guiyu, home of perhaps the most famous e-waste dump but certainly not the only one.   And just a few weeks ago a new e-waste bill was proposed by US Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson, with a focus on the exports of used electronics. It’s called the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act. It establishes a new category of “restricted electronic waste” — that is — waste that cannot be exported from the US to developing nations.

Exemptions from the bill include:

  1. used equipment can still be exported for reuse as long as it’s been tested and is fully functional
  2. nonhazardous parts or materials are also not restricted
  3. crushed cathode ray tube (CRT) glass cullet that is cleaned and fully prepared as feedstock into CRT glass manufacturing facilities.

WEEE WEEE WEEE. In other responsible product end-of-life news: in February 2011, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) passed new WEEE guidelines for electronic waste.  Key points are as follows:

  1. manufacturers would help pay for goods disposal
  2. EU governments would implement more stringent penalties for breaching, e.g, for falsely identifying shipments as “reusable”
  3. authorities would be able to target all WEEE categories
  4. current ambition levels for collection rates would be maintained
  5. European standards would be set for collection, recycling and treatment for WEEE management.

For full details, see article on the top 5 WEEE bits.

Europe accepts a RoHS. In related RoHS news, the Council of the European Union (“the Council”) officially revised the RoHS directive earlier this summer. In the Big Picture, this critical recast attempts to harmonize the directive across the European Union.

In the smaller picture, RoHS affects hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.  The chemical restrictions will now apply to all electrical and electronic equipment, as well as to cables and spare parts, and to medical devices, medical equipment, control and monitoring equipment – which were previously exempt from RoHS compliance but are not exempt now.

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.