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November 18, 2008

GAO Calls for Better Control of Electronic Scrap Exports

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report that calls for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to better control the export of harmful old electronics through stronger enforcement and more comprehensive regulation.

Items with cathode-ray (CRTs) tubes are particularly harmful, according to the GAO summary, because they can contain 4 pounds of lead per unit. To prevent the export of these devices, in January 2007 the EPA began regulating the export of CRTs under its CRT rule, which requires companies to notify EPA before exporting CRTs.

The GAO studied the fate of exported used electronic devices, the effectiveness of regulatory controls governing their export and options to strengthen federal export regulation. The GAO also reviewed waste management surveys in developing countries, monitored e-commerce Web sites and posed as foreign buyers of broken CRTs.

"Recent surveys made on behalf of the United Nations found that used electronics exported from the United States to many Asian countries are dismantled under unsafe conditions, using methods like open-air incineration and acid baths to extract metals such as copper and gold," according to the summary of the GAO report. The office observed thousands of requests, mostly from China and India, for these items on e-commerce Web sites during a three-month period.

According to the GOA, U.S. hazardous waste regulations have not deterred exports of potentially hazardous electronics because existing EPA regulations focus only on CRTs. Other exported used electronics flow virtually unrestricted largely because relevant U.S. regulations examine only how products will react in unlined U.S. landfills; companies easily circumvent the CRT rule; and EPA enforcement is lacking.

The GAO posed as foreign buyers of broken CRTs in Hong Kong, India, Pakistan and other countries. More than 40 U.S. companies expressed a willingness to export these items, the GAO states. "Some of the companies, including ones that publicly tout their exemplary environmental practices, were willing to export CRTs in apparent violation of the CRT rule," according to the GAO summary. GAO provided EPA with the names of these companies at EPA’s request.

Since the CRT rule took effect in January 2007, Hong Kong officials intercepted and returned to U.S. ports 26 containers of illegally exported CRTs, according to the GAO. The EPA has penalized one violator. EPA officials acknowledged compliance problems with its CRT rule, according to the GAO, but said that given the rule’s relative newness, the agency was focused on educating the regulated community. "This reasoning appears misplaced, however, given GAO’s observation of exporters willing to engage in apparent violations of the CRT rule, including some who are aware of the rule," the GAO summary states. The GAO report also accuses the EPA of having done little to determine the extent of noncompliance, adding that EPA officials said they have no plans or a timetable to develop an enforcement program.

The GAO suggests expanding hazardous waste regulations to cover other exported used electronics; submitting a legislative package to Congress for ratifying the Basel Convention, an international regime governing the import and export of hazardous wastes; and working with Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to improve identification and tracking of exported used electronics. "Options such as these could help make U.S. export controls more consistent with those of other industrialized countries," according to the GAO.

Illinois Governor Signs Electronic Recycling Bill into Law

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has signed legislation requiring electronics manufacturers to collect and recycle or reuse discarded electronics generated in the state.

Sen. Susan Garrett and Rep. Elaine Nekritz sponsored Senate Bill 2313, the Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act. The bill went into effect upon the governor’s signing Sept. 17, 2008.

Free to consumers, the law authorizes the use of a combination of incentives and mandates to reduce the amount of electronic scrap—televisions, printers, computer monitors, computers, laptops, fax machines and MP3 players—and their toxic substances from being disposed in Illinois landfills. The law also gives manufacturers flexibility in the strategies they use to meet their goals, such as partnering with retailers and local governments to sponsor collections. Manufacturers, recyclers, refurbishers and collectors must also register annually with the Illinois EPA.

Effective Jan. 1, 2012, landfills will be prohibited from knowingly accepting covered electronic devices for disposal.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center, Chicago, helped to draft the legislation.

Sims Acquires Global Investment Recovery

Sims Group Ltd., based in Australia, has acquired Global Investment Recovery Inc. (GIR), an electronic scrap recycler and asset recovery firm based in Tampa, Fla.

GIR, founded in 1992, has operating facilities in Florida, South Carolina, Nevada, Louisiana and Arizona. The acquisition will increase Sims’ North American electronics recycling and asset recovery market presence by about 40 percent, according to the company, consolidating its market-leading position.

Global Investment Recovery’s service offering extends to recycling (including reverse logistics, recycling of excess inventories and obsolete parts), asset management services (including testing, repair and reuse, secure on-site shredding and separation and destruction of hard drive data to military specifications) and customized reporting and certification.

"The GIR acquisition is a tremendous addition to Sims Recycling Solutions’ North American business and will be a significant contributor to our growth strategy in the region," says Jeremy Sutcliffe, executive director of Sims.

Kentucky Awards Electronic Scrap Recycling Contract

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear has announced that the state’s Finance and Administration Cabinet has awarded a statewide electronics recycling contract to Creative Recycling Inc., Tampa, Fla.

The state estimates that more than 5 million pounds of electronic scrap are generated by government agencies and educational institutions each year.

The contract will assure that the electronic scrap will be recycled in an environmentally sound manner with 5 percent or less of the remaining scrap going to landfills. It also ensures the proper sanitization of any data/information remaining on hard drives and in memory.

This contract was issued as an "all state agencies" contract that allows participation by the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government, school districts, postsecondary education institutions and any other public/nonprofit entity.

Agencies involved in the project are the Division of Waste Management in the Energy and Environment Cabinet (EEC), the finance division of Surplus Properties and Office of Procurement Services, the Department of Education’s Office Education Technology K-12 and the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

Awarding of this contract is the first major accomplishment of the Commonwealth Office of Technology’s Green IT Program Initiative.

Creative Recycling says it plans to establish an electronic scrap sorting and recycling processing facility in Kentucky. The company will be developing a Web site with details about the service.



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