Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Guiyu, China: EPA Administrator Visits World's Largest E-waste Site

Yesterday I visited Guiyu, said U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. This visit took place on Monday, October 11, 2010 as part of an official U.S. visit to China to promote cooperation between the U.S. and China in solving Environmental challenges.

Guiyu, the site of Jackson's visit, is a small village in southeast China -- between Hong Kong and Shanghai -- where U.S. and Europe ship their discarded electronics.

To some, this is incredible: Why would the U.S. and Europe spend so much money transporting used electronics to the other side of the globe for disposal?  The reasons have little to do with fossil fuel prices or shipping costs and everything to do with disposal regulations.

Regulations that help clean up the business of electronics disposal include RoHS, China WEEE and China RoHS and to some degree, of course, REACH.  But different countries, indeed, have different versions of these regulations; and more to the point: different nations exercise different levels of enforcement.  As Jackson put it, there are "countries with weaker safeguards."

"Yesterday," said Jackson, "I saw first-hand some of the strategies being used to recycle and reuse discarded electronics and appliances – everything from cell phones to iPods, from computers to digital cameras – what we call e-waste in the United States." 

E-waste, risk, and management

E-waste is a hot risk management topic -- and it relates straight back to toxic substance control and managing toxic chemical-substances in manufacturing, another key item on the EPA's and the Popular agenda.  In fact, in early October 2010, U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010.  The Act has support from environmental groups, apparently from EPA, as well as from electronic manufacturers Apple, Dell, HP, and Samsung.  These companies already have policies about not exporting e-waste to developing nations, to their credit.

Mark Newton, Director of Sustainable Business at Dell said, “Dell bans the export of e-waste to developing countries as part of our global disposition policy, and the ever-growing e-waste challenge makes it necessary for all recyclers to do the same.  The introduction of this bill is a great first step in giving consumers confidence that the systems they drop off for recycling will be handled responsibly.”  For more, see nice overview here by EMTworldwide, Electronics Manufacture and Test magazine.

Eventually, industry will get closer to non-toxic and recyclable materials in electronics manufacturing - which is what innovative software tools for material disclosure and green chemistry try to address.

E-waste in a time of eco-logic

"In our country," Jackson explained on Tuesday October 12, 2010, "e-waste is the fastest growing segment of local solid waste."

The heart of the matter, Jackson said, is as follows - and it's important to use her words here:
"The vast majority of discarded electronics end up in landfills – or they are often exported to developing nations, where there is less capacity to safely manage disposal," said Jackson.  "As you know, some of these wastes contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have been linked to cancer, developmental problems, neurological disorders and more.  In far too many places around the world, e-waste is burned or broken open to recover the materials inside.  These methods put these workers – men, women and even children – and their environment at extraordinary risk.

"The U.S. is developing laws and regulations to prevent harmful exports of used electronics," Jackson continued.  "Twenty-four of our states have enacted their own e-waste laws and more states have pending legislation.  Recently, draft legislation was introduced in our Congress for nationwide restrictions on exports of e-waste.
"I’m proud that many American companies like Dell, Apple and HP have been working to improve the way electronics are designed and produced, by using more environmentally friendly materials and finding better ways to reuse and recycle products across their lifecycles. As with our other priorities, there is no uni-lateral solution for electronic waste. We must work as a global community and coordinate efforts so that closing the borders in one country does not simply lead to e-waste flowing to other countries with weaker safeguards.
E-waste and TSCA link

"Electronic waste is directly related to another of our priorities, reducing exposure to toxic chemicals," Jackson reiterated on Monday.

This is an allusion to recent TSCA revisions put forth in summer 2010 by Waxman and Rush.  We reported about these in a previous post.  TSCA adjustments to reporting rules were proposed in August, see article: EPA Proposes Strict New Chemical Reporting Rules.  TSCA itself is an Act -- not a law or a department as some commonly and understandably assume -- under the EPA for the management of toxic chemicals.  TSCA stands for Toxic Substances Control Act.  It is a U.S. Federal measure.  More on TSCA here.  The TSCA Inventory is here.

Future shock?

Keep an eye on this blog for notices around changing policies regarding the disposal and the materials used in electronics.  What used to be "reasonable business practice" isn't anymore.  Everything changes every 6 months it seems - if not faster - we try to keep you up-to-date.

Stay with us -- on our blog; stay ahead of the supply chain stewardship curve.