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November 2006

Discussions to continue on renewing national e-recycling initiative

Following a September 13 meeting with electronic manufacturers and retailers, recyclers, environmentalists and state officials, the Congressional E-Waste Working Group agreed to continue discussions to explore options for safely disposing of and recycling hazardous electronic waste.

The bi-partisan group formed in 2005 by House of Representatives members Mike Thompson (D-CA), Mary Bono (R-CA), Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Zach Wamp (R-TN), brought together various stakeholders to Capital Hill to discuss potential solutions.

Among the many aspects brought forward, serious attention was focused on how to develop a solution to the growing problem of obsolete electronics disposal, what role the federal government can play to mitigate e-waste’s harmful effects and how to distribute the responsibility for disposal of these products.

“The problem e-waste poses to the environment and our health is clear and it is encouraging that many groups are actively working towards a solution,” says Thompson. “However, rather than having a patchwork of state regulations and individual company policies, a federal solution may be a more effective approach. By bringing these groups together, we’re a lot closer to finding a realistic way of decreasing the amount of e-waste ending up in our landfills.”

At the request of the stakeholders, the E-Waste Working Group will hold another meeting in a few months. The goal is to come up with suggestions for a policy model, including how it will be paid for and which electronic products it will cover. With suggestions in hand, the group will be prepared to develop an e-waste policy.

Among the attendees of the September 13 meeting were representatives from Best Buy, the Consumer Electronics Retailers Association, Dell Inc., the Electronics Industries Alliance, Electronic Waste Recycling Program – California, Goodwill Industries International, Hewlett-Packard Company, IBM, International Scrap Recycling, Kodak, the National Recycling Coalition, Panasonic, Product Stewardship Institute and Sony Electronics.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that 100 million electronic devices become obsolete each year. E-waste now accounts for more than 40 percent of the lead and 70 percent of the metals in landfills.

California, Washington, Maine and Maryland have already passed e-waste legislation and another two-dozen are considering their own measures. Many of these approaches vary in whose responsibility e-waste is, whether the onus should be on producers, retailers, recyclers or consumers.

The E-Waste Working Group recently asked the United States Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution of the Morris K. Udall Foundation to determine whether a mediated negotiation among key e-waste stakeholders would be productive and would expedite a resolution of the issues that remain in dispute.

“The Institute found consensus among those stakeholders interviewed for a national approach to e-waste, and has provided the group with a set of recommendations for moving forward,” says Thompson. “September’s forum was the first step in that direction.”

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