July 09, 2009

Klobuchar, Gillibrand Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Promote Recycling of Electronic Waste

Legislation would find best ways to recycle e-waste and reduce the use of hazardous materials in electronics

Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced bipartisan legislation to promote the research and development of programs to improve the collection and recycling of electronic equipment and to reduce the use of hazardous materials in electronics.  The Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act would provide research grants to find ways to deal with the growing amount of electronic waste (e-waste), much of which contains hazardous materials and should not be dumped into landfills.  The legislation is also cosponsored by Susan Collins (R-ME).

"Technology continues to advance, but our ways of disposing of electronic equipment haven't kept up," said Klobuchar.  "Many states, including Minnesota, are leading the way on recycling electronic equipment, but we need a national solution to ensure that all unwanted electronics are discarded in a safe and responsible manner."

"For too long, too many people have been improperly dumping electronic devices without being aware of the dangerous effects on our environment," Senator Gillibrand said. "This legislation is a win-win for protecting the environment and our families. It takes the right steps to develop the best methods to change the way we dispose of outdated and unused electronics, and the hazardous materials they often contain."

The disposal of e-waste, such as old televisions and computers, can be environmental and health hazards since many of these electronics contain hazardous substances, like lead and cadmium, which can seep into soil and water.  Yet, only about 15 percent of electronic devices are recycled in the U.S. 

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2006 alone, Americans generated 2.9 million tons of e-waste.  Of that, only 330,000 tons were recycled.  The volume of e-waste is expected to increase in the coming years as more Americans get rid of their old televisions in the wake of the transition to digital television.

The low rate of recycling reflects a number of barriers, such as the expense of collecting old devices from consumers and an inefficient disassembly process, which is both time and labor intensive, and often makes it difficult to reuse valuable electronic parts and materials.

The Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act would make competitively awarded grants available to universities, government labs, and private industry for research, development and demonstration projects for electronic device recycling, re-use, and refurbishment, and to aid in the development of more environmentally-friendly electronic materials.

Minnesota instituted an electronic recycling program in 2007.