Obama Leaves the Door Open for Toxic E-Waste Exports

Last week, the Obama Administration issued its long awaited report on federal policies to address the growing problem of e-waste.  This report brought  good news and bad news.

The good news is that the report includes recommendations for promoting greener design, such as creating products with fewer toxics, less virgin materials and making them more easily recyclable.  There are other goals that are also commendable: promoting research and technology to better recover precious metals and rare earth metals, directing federal dollars to purchasing “greener” products, and encouraging manufacturers to take back their products, among other positive recommendations.

Now the bad news.  Obama’s Task Force failed to outline a clear policy banning the export of  toxic e-waste to developing nations. Instead, they suggest the export problem can be resolved by having e-waste handled only by “certified” recyclers. This sounds good, but in fact one of the two e-waste recycler certification programs (R2) the federal government recognizes still allows exporting of toxic e-waste to developing countries. Only the e-Stewards e-waste management program bans exports of all e-waste, unless it is tested and assured to be in working condition and destined for re-use, not for toxic dumps.

Equipment must be tested and in working condition because estimates are that as much as 75% of the electronics equipment sent under the guise of “reuse” are actually non-working and then are dumped in the developing countries, causing immeasurable harm to both human health and the environment.

To make matters worse, the report suggests that if we can just make sure that e-waste only goes to “good” recycling facilities in developing countries, then it will be ok to send them our toxic trash.  But this is faulty thinking.  E-waste recycling is an industry where doing the right thing costs more and the incentives are all there to cut corners.  It is hard to tell the environmentally responsible recyclers from the low road recyclers even in this country.  How will the EPA or any other agency, determine whether a facility thousands of miles away is handling our e-waste safely- not just on a one day audit but every day?  Plus we are violating a fundamental principle of environmental justice – dumping our toxic waste on the poor communities, who are least equipped to handle it.

Finally, while President Obama repeatedly states he wants to create green jobs at home, the proposal to allow e-waste exports will continue to promote the export of jobs overseas. These are exactly the green jobs that U.S. workers could be doing.  Green recyclers say they can handle increased volumes and that more volume would help their businesses grow, so why would we want to export these jobs?

Obama’s Task Force claims the Administration wants to “lead by example,” but instead of being at the forefront by making a clear no-export policy, they are actually lagging behind a number of manufacturers, including Dell, HP, Apple, Samsung, LG and ASUS, retailers like Best Buy, and counties including Santa Clara county in California and King County in Washington, who all have clear policies that ensure that their e-waste does not end up in developing countries. That’s leadership.

President Obama needs to hear that we are disappointed that he has failed to lead by example with a policy that leaves the door open to toxic e-waste dumping.

Use our online tool to send a message to President Obama now, urging him to change his policy on managing federal e-waste.

Tell Obama’s Federal e-waste task force:  Federal Agencies should not allow their untested and non-working used electronics to be exported to developing countries.

Also, you may recall that Congress has proposed legislation to close the door on global e-waste dumping. If you haven’t already done so, let your members of Congress know that you want them to support legislation to stop e-waste exports to developing countries.