Obama Calls for More Electronics Recycling, Task Force to Encourage Federal Agencies

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The Obama administration on Nov. 16 announced the formation of a federal task force to promote recycling of electronic waste at federal agencies, saying the federal government has to lead by example in responsibly managing used electronic equipment.

The announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency said the Council on Environmental Quality, the General Services Administration, and EPA formed the task force under the Executive Order on Federal Sustainability (Exec. Order No. 13,514), signed Oct. 5, 2009 (40 ER 2334, 10/9/09).

Other agencies also will be represented.

“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure that its own waste is properly managed and recycled,” CEQ Chairman Nancy Sutley said in a statement. “Identifying opportunities to reuse the valuable resources contained in most disposed electronic devices is an important part of our obligation to protect human health and the environment.”

The announcement came a day after President Obama issued an “America Recycles Day” proclamation Nov. 15 highlighting the importance of recycling in general and electronic waste in particular.

“Currently, most discarded consumer electronics end up in our landfills or are exported abroad, creating potential health and environmental hazards and representing a lost opportunity to recover valuable resources such as rare earth minerals,” Obama said in the proclamation.

“To address the problems caused by electronic waste, American businesses, government, and individuals must work together to manage these electronics throughout the product lifecycle--from design and manufacturing through their use and eventual recycling, recovery, and disposal,” Obama said.

Obama said the task force was set up to “ensure the Federal Government leads as a responsible consumer.” The task force will “prepare a national strategy for responsible electronics stewardship, including improvements to Federal procedures for managing electronic products,” he said.

The task force also will take steps to keep electronics containing hazardous materials “are not exported to developing nations that lack the capacity to manage the recovery and disposal of these products in ways that safeguard human health and the environment,” Obama said.

The task force was established under the executive order signed by Obama in 2009 to increase the environmental and energy performance of federal agencies (40 ER 2334, 10/9/09).

Task Force Includes Multiple Agencies.

The task force will include CEQ, EPA, GSA, the Departments of State and Commerce, and the U.S. Trade Representative. EPA and GSA will co-chair the task force.

Within 180 days, the task force will provide plans and recommendations to ensure that federal agencies are recycling as much electronic waste as possible.

“In the spirit of E.O. 13514, we will lead by example in this effort by ensuring that the departments and agencies of the Federal Government, some of the largest consumers of electronics in the country, are also the most responsible consumers,” CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley said in a Nov. 8 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson establishing the task force.

According to EPA, electronic equipment contains valuable materials, such as precious metals and rare earth minerals, which can be recycled. Recycling 1 million cell phones yields 75 pounds of gold, 772 pounds of silver, 33 pounds of palladium, and more than 35,000 pounds of copper, EPA said.

Recycling electronic waste also prevents pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that result from mining, production of the raw materials, and the disposal of products.

By Steven D. Cook