Surely, the future of electronics recycling was not the top thing on Donald Trump’s mind when he crafted his recent federal budget proposal.
Nonetheless, President Trump’s controversial plan for allocation of federal dollars could end up making a long-term impact on the e-scrap industry – and not in a good way.
The Trump administration’s fiscal proposal – “a budget blueprint to make America great again” – was released in mid-March. Not surprisingly, it advocates for an increase in defense spending while significantly slashing funding for a variety of other areas.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was hit with a proposed $2.6 billion funding cut, a drop of 31 percent from the agency’s current annual allocation. The budget would leave intact the politically popular state revolving funds program, which helps support local water and infrastructure projects, and aim instead at EPA staff. The proposal would cut around 3,200 employees from the agency, equating to a reduction of more than 20 percent.
According to an analysis from The New York Times, the EPA’s overall budget under the Trump proposal would be the agency’s lowest ever when adjusted for inflation. And information that has recently come to light shows Trump aims to significantly slash EPA spending on recycling and waste-minimization efforts.
For many in the e-scrap world, the reaction may be: Who cares? EPA funding fluctuations are part of the political cycle, and they don’t have much tangible effect on the day-to-day activities of electronics reuse and recovery anyway.
Some operators, in fact, likely support the notion of a slimmed down federal role when it comes to development of environmental regulations. Complying with all the rules on the books already can be an onerous task for business owners.
However, when looking at the larger electronics recycling ecosystem, it becomes clear an active and well-funded EPA is critical. For one striking example, we can look at the CRT issue. As CRT glass has become a negative-value material, the industry has found itself with its hands tied.
In many areas, CRTs are required by law to be recycled. But time after time, the funding required to make that happen has not materialized. That’s given rise to CRTs abandoned in warehouses, CRTs buried in unpermitted sites, and other CRT-related problems.
Without question, the CRT issue is bigger than any one stakeholder, and it’s exactly in this realm that the EPA is most valuable. Over the past five years, the agency has held meetings bringing together companies and industry groups. The discussion has not solved the problem, but it’s led to critical dialogue that would not have happened otherwise. EPA helped spark a similar conversation around the issue of certification a decade ago, and that process reshaped electronics recycling as we know it. E-scrap-specific certifications are now an important part of the sector, and they have helped boost best practices and bring an element of trustworthiness to the processing landscape.
Another example of big-picture agency thinking is an ongoing project within the Agency’s Office of Research and Development to comprehensively map the trail of used electronics in the U.S. and across the world. The data project has the potential to offer powerful insights into the realities of the scrap electronics landscape.
It’s also the exact type of voluntary project from the agency that would be sacrificed if Trump’s vision of a gutted EPA survives.
Ultimately, Congress will make the call on the specifics of the federal government’s budget.
It’s true many lawmakers will be eager to scale back environmental regulations. But they should also see the value in EPA’s ability to help solve some of the biggest conundrums in electronics recycling – and in many other areas of modern society.
Dan Leif is the managing editor of E-Scrap News. He can be contacted at [email protected].