More Governments Support Better E-waste Policies

This post is part of Global Wire Associates’ Recharge E-Waste Campaign.

In the last few months alone, there have been some major policy changes around e-waste recycling and management in Western nations.  Analysts believe that between 50 to 80 percent of electronic waste ends up in the developing world, and these new changes made by Western governments are meant to change this around.  The European Union drastically updated it’s 2003 directive, which originally placed the responsibility of safe e-waste recycling on manufacturers alone.  However, there was much criticism that manufacturers were not only not recycling, but also allowing old electronics to be dumped illegally in developing countries.

The new Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive holds European governments accountable.  Member states now must collect 45 percent of electronics sold for approved recycling from 2016.  By 2019 this should grow from 65 percent to 85 percent electronics sold.  Also, by 2018, the EU anticipates that the directive will extend to all types of e-waste, as many manufacturers believe there are some types of e-waste that are too difficult to collect.  Member states are required to have some kind of national e-waste policy in place by February 14, 2014.

The United States government – the largest consumer of electronics in the country with an annual IT budget of nearly $US 80 billion – also made some significant changes in its operations to address e-waste.  According to a report, the federal government disposes of 10,000 computers each week. In 2009 alone, 2.37 million tons of their computer equipment were thrown out, but only a quarter of it was recycled.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “in 2011, the federal government issued at least 140,000 IT equipment contracts, worth at least $11 billion, to outside organizations, according to a review of data available on USAspending.gov. The Journal’s review included equipment such as data processors, computers and mainframes, but not more highly specialized gear, such as military systems and laboratory hardware.”

Last March U.S. General Services Administrator Martha Johnson announced that all federal agencies are now banned from disposing electronics into landfills, and instead directed old electronics to certified recyclers.  Government officials are now required to use their electronics until they have been exhausted.  Electronics that have reached their maximum utility will be offered to schools or other state and local agencies and governments.  This new directive is part of the Obama administration’s Executive Order 13514, which sets policy on how to improve sustainability efforts in the government, while supporting the economy.  The new directive took effect in July.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) also just announced a new partnership with recycler MaxBack that will make it easier for consumers to get rid of old electronics. USPS will not only ship your electronics for free, but MaxBack will pay you to send them.

Western nations are not only taking these measures more seriously because it is better for the health of the planet and the people residing on it, but also more people are realizing the true value of the electronics they recklessly throw away.  In many cases a mobile phone or computer can contain precious metals valuing as much as the GDP of a small country.

…According to experts at the United Nations University, electronic waste now contains precious metal deposits that are 40 to 50 percent richer than even naturally occurring ores mined from the ground.  With respect to gold alone, electrical products consumed 5.3 percent (197 tons) of the world’s supply in 2001 and 7.7 percent (320 tons) last year.  Most of these are wasted because of improper e-waste recovery practices.

In rich and poor countries alike – just 10 to 15 percent of the gold in e-waste is recovered; at least 85 percent gets lost

Setting new government policies for addressing e-waste is a step in the right direction.

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