June 23, 2011

Whitehouse Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Promote Domestic Recycling of Electronic Waste

Legislation Would Crack Down on Foreign Counterfeits

Washington, DC – With significant amounts of U.S. electronic waste currently exported to developing countries that handle the equipment in an unsafe manner, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today introduced bipartisan legislation to put an end to this dangerous practice.  The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, which is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), would restrict the export of electronic waste, help boost the domestic recycling industry, and support efforts to recover rare earth materials found in electronics.

“With more and more Americans relying on new technologies and generating a growing amount of electronic waste each year, we must take steps to properly dispose of this material,” said Whitehouse.  “This legislation will crack down on the dumping of electronic waste on developing countries, protect American consumers from counterfeit schemes and identity theft, and support the growth of e-waste recycling jobs in Rhode Island and across the country.”

“We can and should handle our electronic waste in a more responsible way. This legislation addresses where these materials can be sent, helping to create investment opportunities for recycling,” Murkowski said.  “The U.S. is dangerously reliant on foreign supplies for minerals that make up the building blocks of our economy, but recycling can help reverse that trend.  This bill and others will help us lead on environmental stewardship, technological innovation, and developing a more stable supply of critical minerals.”

“This bill will foster domestic innovation and allow Ohio businesses, like Redemtech, to create good-paying, clean energy jobs,” Brown said. “By addressing environmental threats that endanger public health and reducing the number of counterfeit electronics in the U.S., we can spur economic development in Ohio.”

Discarded electronics often contain dangerous materials such as lead and mercury.  Developing countries receiving electronic waste often lack the resources to properly dispose of the products, meaning workers handle them using unsafe methods that can lead to health problems.  Furthermore, companies in some nations such as China will repackage discarded electronics and re-sell them back to American consumers.  Business Week reported in 2010 that used computer chips from old personal computers are fraudulently re-marked in China as “military grade” chips and sold to U.S. military suppliers.  And some countries have active underground markets for U.S. hard drives, contributing to identity theft, as documented in a 2009 Frontline investigation.  Although many developed countries restrict the export of electronic waste, the United States does not have a comprehensive national approach for the export of used electronics.

The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act would address these health, environmental, and national security concerns by amending the Solid Waste Disposal Act to prohibit the export of certain electronic waste to developing countries.  This would boost business for companies recycling in the United States who often operate under-capacity because they cannot compete with the lower costs of exporting waste.  The bill also establishes the Rare Earth Materials Recycling Research Initiative at the Department of Energy to coordinate research into the recovery of rare earth materials used in electronics. 

The legislation is officially supported by Hewlett Packard, Dell, Apple, Samsung, Best Buy, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, and 29 recyclers representing 74 recycling operations in 34 states.   


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921