EPA pressed to better define electronic waste

EPA pressed to better define "electronic waste"

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently grappling with a tricky question that many in the recycling industry know all too well: What exactly is e-scrap?

Late last week, the EPA's Office of the Inspector General issued a report that criticized the agency's lack of consistency in managing and tracking discarded devices and appliances and OIG made it clear that developing a single, comprehensive definition of e-waste is a key first step to developing better processes.

"EPA defines and lists e-waste differently in each of its programs and initiatives, including the National Strategy," the report states. "The variance in definitions hampers EPA's overall ability to effectively collect relevant information and set goals."

While the OIG is pushing for the agency to more uniformly classify areas within the discarded electronics category, the report also makes it clear that members of the agency have already spent time thinking about the topic — and those individuals have at times determined that in a realm where new technologies are constantly being developed, it can make sense to not have clear-cut boundaries. "[Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery] staff expressed concern that a set definition is not flexible enough to adapt to technological changes," the OIG report states. "Staff explained that each program or initiative defines e-waste uniquely to deal with technology changes and shifts in consumer demand."

That shifting-definition approach certainly has merit and may be one e-scrap processors have found useful to employ.  But, the OIG points out, when it comes to developing policy across a national agency, a lack of coordination — and uniformity — can cause headaches.  "If more comprehensive measures are not taken, EPA's ability to manage this complex issue will continue to be limited."

Other e-scrap recommendations the OIG made to the EPA in its report:

  • The agency needs to do a better job identifying CRT exporters and enforcing regulations in the CRT field.
  • The agency needs to more fully determine the hazardous characteristics of non-CRT electronics sent to landfills and generators.

EPA now has 60 days to develop corrective plans based on OIG recommendations.

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