EPA Proposes Easing Barriers to Encourage Recycling

Washington, DC - The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed changing its existing waste regulations for computers, televisions and mercury-containing equipment to discourage the flow of these materials to municipal landfills and incinerators, and to promote safe reuse and recycling of these products.

"By streamlining our waste regulations, we encourage more reuse and recycling, cut costs and reduce paperwork," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "At the same time we continue to protect public health and the environment by providing better methods for reusing, recycling and managing materials containing hazardous substances such as lead and mercury."

Color computer monitors and televisions contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs), most of which contain lead to protect users from x-rays generated while the tube is in operation. A typical computer monitor may contain up to eight pounds of lead. EPA estimates that over 250 million computers in this country will be retired from use over the next five years. The EPA proposal would encourage more reuse and recycling of these computers.

For instance, if CRTs are being considered for possible reuse, the proposal clarifies that EPA considers them to be "products," rather than "waste." Therefore, they would not be regulated under the waste requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA is also proposing to lift the waste designation from glass removed from CRTs, as long as the glass is sent for recycling and managed in accordance with simplified storage, labeling and transportation requirements specified in the proposal.

This proposal will also streamline regulations for mercury-containing equipment. Mercury is used in several types of instruments common to electric utilities, municipalities and households, such as switches, barometers, meters, temperature gauges, pressure gauges and sprinkler system contacts.

Under the proposal, mercury-containing equipment will be treated as a "universal waste," rather than being subject to the full hazardous waste regulations under RCRA. Universal wastes are usually items commonly thrown into the trash by households and small businesses, such as batteries, thermostats, lamps and pesticides. EPA issued the first universal waste rule in 1995 to streamline environmental regulations for wastes produced in relatively small quantities by large numbers of businesses. Handlers of universal wastes follow special standards designed to encourage centralized collection and recycling in order to keep these wastes out of landfills and incinerators.

The Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) gave the following statement: "One of the main goals of the electronics industry is to lessen the environmental impact of its products over their entire life cycle - from design, to use, to end-of-life. At end of life, we strongly encourage recycling as the best end-of-life option.

"In order to meet our goal and successfully increase the level of electronics recycling within the United States, we must increase the recycling infrastructure and make electronics recycling a viable domestic industry.

"Under the proposed rule, facilities that collect and transport used electronics will benefit from reduced transportation costs and reduced permitting requirements - both of which will reduce overall recycling costs, providing economic incentives for the collection and siting of recycling facilities. The net benefit is that consumers will have more opportunities to recycle used electronics.

"This rule is the result of years of multi-stakeholder cooperation including the electronics industry, the EPA and environmentalists. The proposal represents an important piece of the multi-faceted solution that is necessary to promote environmentally sound and affordable electronics recycling in the United States. We are very pleased with the intent of the proposed rule and we look forward to submitting comments on the proposal to ensure that the proposal promotes electronics recycling to the greatest extent possible."