The Complexities of e-Waste Disposal

The complexities of monitoring compliance with e-waste disposal regulations were illustrated last year in differing assessments from two different Federal agencies (GAO & EPA). The viewpoints are informative, but the bottom line is that responsible enterprises should complement government efforts by taking a careful look at exactly what their e-waste contractors are doing with the gear. The EPA provides information about what to expect from a good e-waste recycler.

An August 2008 report by the United States Government Accountability Office on e-waste was subtitled "EPA Needs to Better Control Harmful U.S. Exports through Stronger Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation." It went on to say, ""GAO recommends that EPA (1) develop a systematic plan to enforce the CRT rule and (2) develop options to broaden its regulatory authority to address the export of other potentially harmful used electronics."

I asked the EPA about the two recommendations. It commented on the first recommendation:

"EPA recognizes that there are many challenges to appropriately controlling management of electronic waste that is exported. At the time, the Agency responded to the GAO report saying that we believe that non-regulatory approaches can make effective contributions to the safe export of electronic equipment and are not convinced that the best course of action at this time is to develop a regulatory scheme to address these issues. As an example, EPA, along with numerous other stakeholders, has invested a great deal of effort in the last few years on our "Responsible Recycling" (R2)initiative.  The "R2 Practices for Use in Accredited Certification Programs for Electronic Recyclers" consists of a set of environmentally sound reuse, refurbishment, and recycling-related procedures that can be audited.  There are several export-related practices in the R2 document. Together, they extend the recycler’s responsibility for certain electronics materials by providing for assurances from downstream international vendors.  These assurances include documentation from the foreign country that the electronics material is allowed to be imported into the country. The export of electronics is an important environmental matter, and the Agency continues to evaluate this issue to ensure we take the most effective approach."

And on the second:

"EPA has a well-established compliance monitoring and enforcement program for all RCRA requirements, which includes guidance and procedures designed to meet the "basic elements of effective enforcement" as recommended by GAO. EPA has begun more than 20 investigations into possible violations of the CRT export requirements. EPA has reached settlements with two companies that had violated these requirements, Jet Ocean Technologies and Fortune Sky Recycling. In each case, the company paid a penalty of $10,300.  For fiscal year 2009, EPA has plans to initiate several new investigations.

"EPA is continuing to identify those facilities that have failed to notify as required by the export requirements for CRTs. In addition to these investigations, when EPA receives information that a shipment has been returned, the appropriate regional office is notified so that it can investigate and take enforcement action where appropriate."

You can find information about the R2 program and the above-referenced document at

I appreciate EPA's Tisha Petteway and Dave Ryan providing these replies to my questions.