Eco-groups seek ban on exporting toxic electronics

10 Mar 2011

Concerned environmental groups urged the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to prohibit federal agencies of exporting electronics to developing nations, where the toxics inside them can harm the environment and public health.

“Many unscrupulous recyclers don’t really recycle our e-waste, but simply export it to developing nations, where the toxic materials in these products end up poisoning workers and communities,” said Barbara Kyle, the national co-ordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC).

“Exporting is such a common practice in this industry, you need to be very diligent in selecting and monitoring your recyclers to make sure they are not doing this with your old electronics. We are saying we want the federal government to exercise that level of diligence.”

The CEQ led a presidential proclamation last November announcing the creation of a new Interagency Taskforce on Electronics Stewardship.

The President urged the federal agencies to develop a national strategy for electronics stewardship, including procedures for how the agencies manage their own e-waste. The taskforce must complete its work in May 2011, when an announcement on e-waste policy is expected from the White House.

In a letter sent today to CEQ chairwoman Nancy Sutley, the ETBC and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called on the CEQ and the taskforce to create a strategy whereby federal agencies will no longer allow their used electronic products, purchased with taxpayer funds, to be exported to developing nations if there are harmful toxics inside and if this trade usually violates the laws of importing countries.

“President (Barack) Obama stated that he wanted to ensure the federal government leads as a responsible consumer,” said Kyle. “Well, this is what responsible consumers are doing now – making sure their toxic e-waste goes only to recyclers who will NOT export them to developing countries for disposal and recycling, and who export used products only if they are fully functional and going for legitimate reuse. This needs to be the cornerstone of any national policy on electronics stewardship.”

The CEQ issued a request for comments on 1 March 2011, with comments due on Friday, 11 March.  The Electronics TakeBack Coalition submitted detailed comments yesterday.