When used electronics are discarded unnecessarily and improperly, the result can be adverse human health effects for workers and the communities due to potential exposure to harmful substances such as mercury and lead, as well as environmental pollution detrimental to our ecosystems and quality of life. Such unsustainable practices can also hinder us of our ability to recover and reuse valuable resources, such as precious metals, copper, and plastics. The sound reuse, refurbishment, and recycling of used electronics prevent valuable materials from going into the waste stream. This process protects human health and the environment and conserves resources, prevents pollution, and saves energy. Reuse and refurbishment are not only good for the environment, but have the added benefit to society of allowing schools, nonprofit organizations, and lower-income families to obtain equipment that they otherwise could not afford.
How to Apply this Policy
U.S. EPA, working with the General Services Administration, the Council on Environmental Quality, and other federal agencies, developed the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, which includes concrete actions that the federal government will undertake to promote sound electronics management. (See www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/taskforce/index.htm) In addition, 25 states have laws that govern the recycling and disposal of used electronics; many require manufacturers to pay for recycling used electronics.
U.S. EPA encourages all users of electronic equipment to choose certified recyclers to manage their used electronics and all electronics recyclers to become certified by demonstrating to an accredited, independent third-party auditor that they meet specific standards to safely recycle and manage electronics.
Currently, two accredited certification standards exist: the Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) and the e-Stewards® standards. In addition, U.S. EPA has challenged electronics manufacturers, retailers, and mobile service providers to foster and promote opportunities for individuals to donate or recycle their used electronics through nationwide electronics take-back programs. These programs use certified recyclers to manage the equipment that is collected. U.S. EPA regulates the recycling and disposal of hazardous substances in used electronics, specifically the glass video display component (cathode ray tube or CRTs) of an electronic device.