In a time when government budget deficits are a hot topic, the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship is "a huge step toward ... bringing the government closer to private sector best practices for recycling," Redemtech President Robert Houghton told me recently.
The report, released jointly last month by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration, sets out four goals: increasing effective management of used electronics within the U.S., reducing harm from U.S. exports of used electronics, creating incentives for "greener" electronics design and ensuring that government agencies practice what they preach.
But environmental groups like the Basel Action Network are disappointed that the government stakeholders who devised the strategy did not take a stronger stand on the exportation of end-of-life electronics from the U.S. The stakeholders from the "environmental end of the spectrum," as Houghton described them, want Congress to pass legislation banning the export of electronics from the U.S. unless those electronics are fully functional. In a statement, BAN's Jim Puckett said:
This report shows why we need Congress to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, now under consideration in both the Senate and Congress, to truly address this issue.
Though Houghton agrees that legislation or regulation on the export issue could be justified, he doesn't think those responsible for the new strategy should be criticized for not requiring it at this juncture. He said:
The government has made a commitment to be more sustainable ... it wants to maximize reuse; it wants a better process in place for ensuring data security on used equipment, which is dramatically needed. Equally importantly, it wants more accountability on true end of life equipment, the stuff that has to be recycled, by stipulating that recycling has to be done by certified recyclers.
The fact is, the U.S. has been exporting electronics for recycling since electronics came to be. As such, we're only beginning to build the infrastructure necessary to recycle electronics domestically. Moreover, a ban on exports would mean trade restrictions that some of the stakeholders on this issue don't want to see. But this is "a good first step," Houghton said.