E-Waste Research Bill Proposed

By: 
July 20, 2011

Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) has introduced the Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act (HR-2396), which is designed to create competitive research grants to address the growing problem of electronic device disposal.

Sarbanes sees the bill as a gain for the economy and for the environment. "It reduces the environmental impact of high-tech manufacturing, reduces cost, and makes US companies less dependent on foreign suppliers of minerals and other materials," he says in a press release. While the goals of the bill are ambitious, the success in accomplishing them will depend on the quality of the projects to be initiated if the bill happens to pass the House and Senate, and get signed by President Obama.

The bill would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award grants to reduce the environmental impact of discarded electronic devices and promote the recycling of those devices through R&D projects. It would also call for a study of the barriers to recycling of these devices and authorize the EPA to award grants to colleges and universities for curriculum development in the area of recycling electronic devices.

Trade associations in the electronics industry favor this bill, since it supports environmentally friendly alternatives to current take-back disposal of electronic waste. "Although I cannot speak for the industry trade associations, it is my understanding that they favor this approach," Holly A. Evans, president of Strategic Council, an Alexandria, Va.-based firm involved in environmental law, and policy counsel for the global electronics industry, told me. "The goal is to use federal funding to help foster the infrastructure for a market-based solution to the issue of e-waste."

Evans says the Sarbanes bill differs substantially from the state legislation on e-waste. "This bill is in direct contrast to state bills that force product manufacturers to finance the end-of-life recovery of electronic waste."

Sarbanes argues that the process of recycling e-waste could include the recapture of rare raw materials required for manufacturing semiconductors, hybrid cars, wind turbines, computer display screens, and other high-tech products. He claims the legislation "will help American companies stay competitive in the new, green economy, and provide opportunities for job growth at existing businesses. He believes it will also set the stage for new companies to emerge."

The bill was co-sponsored by Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Eddie Johnson (D-TX), and David Wu (D-OR). A similar bill was introduced last year by Sen. Amy Kloubuchar (D-MN), but it didn't make it to the Senate floor. Given that the Senate is run by the Democrats and the bill didn't live, the bill from Sarbanes and his Democrat co-sponsors will have an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House. The bill also has strong support from environmental groups.

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