GAO Releases New Report on Toxic E-Waste Export: EPA unable to enforce rules, holds "little concern for the environment in other countries"
Report paints shocking picture of "electronic waste anarchy" says environmental group
Electronics TakeBack Coalition Press Release
17 September 2008 – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report on electronic waste today during a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national coalition of environmental and consumer groups promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry, applauded the report, hailing it as the U.S. government’s first comprehensive look at the magnitude of the problem of exporting toxic e-waste to developing nations.
The report finds that few regulations exist to control this problem, and that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fails to enforce those that do exist, which only cover old cathode ray tube TVs and monitors. To test compliance with the regulations, the GAO posed as foreign buyers of broken cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and found 43 U.S. companies willing to ignore the EPA CRT rule and export nonworking CRT monitors to foreign countries in direct opposition to U.S. regulations. Some of these are companies who promote themselves publicly as environmentally responsible companies, with at least 3 of them holding Earth Day electronics recycling events in 2008.
The GAO’s findings include:
- "US regulatory controls do little to stem the export of potentially hazardous used electronics."
- "US Exports of potentially harmful used electronics flow virtually unrestricted."
- Existing regulations focus only on CRTs, but companies easily circumvent the CRT regulations, because they are confident that they will not get caught.
- "EPA has done little to enforce the CRT rule" which went into effect in January 2007. Only one company has been fined so far, and that July 2008 penalty resulted from a problem the GAO identified.
- The EPA does not plan to enforce the CRT regulations. "They have no plans, and no timetable for developing the basic components of an enforcement strategy…"
"This GAO report brings us one step closer to developing a national solution for electronic waste," said Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) "We can’t just pretend that when this waste is shipped overseas it’s not our problem anymore. We need to treat e-waste as a hazardous material, and create anti-dumping legislation. As founder of the Congressional E-Waste Working Group, one of my priorities next year will be to get comprehensive e-waste legislation passed into law."
"This GAO report is a blistering criticism of EPA’s failure to enforce even the weak regulations that they have," said Congressman Gene Green (D-TX). "If EPA does not act in response to this report to halt the exports of toxic e-waste to developing nations, then our Subcommittee will need to legislate."
"This new report by the GAO establishes beyond doubt that the irresponsible practices of U.S. e-waste exporters are causing enormous harm in other parts of the world and that the EPA -- the one agency we have that is supposed to be concerned about protecting the environment -- has been an accomplice rather than an enforcer," said Ted Smith, Chair of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. "It is simply disgraceful that the wealthiest country in the world is using the developing world as its garbage dump. We need immediate action from Congress to put an end to these practices."
"The GAO report paints a picture of electronic waste anarchy in the U.S., with little regulation, no enforcement, and unscrupulous recyclers setting the stage for the U.S. to dump its e-waste on the rest of the world," said Jim Puckett, Coordinator of the Basel Action Network, a toxic trade watchdog group that first exposed the problems with e-waste export to China in 2002. "The report clearly shows the need for comprehensive legislation that places a full ban on export of toxic e-waste to developing nations."
"Many businesses in this country understand the social and environmental impacts of e-waste exporting and have policies that forbid it for their old electronic equipment," said Robert Houghton, CEO of Redemtech, an electronics recycler and asset recovery firm. "Such customers are literally defrauded by vendors that promise responsible recycling, but then choose the easy profits of the e-waste export trade, knowing that they are very unlikely to be caught. We need both informed legislation and more rigorous audit standards before the toxic cheating will stop."
To speak with Barbara Kyle, the National Coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, about the GAO report and possible solutions to the e-waste problem, please call Allison Lenthall at 703-600-9324 or e-mail email@example.com.
Photographs of e-waste in developing nations are available online, for download and reprint, at http://www.e-takeback.org/press_open/info.htm.
The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a national group of non-profit organizations promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry.
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