Congress may again attempt to create new regulations covering the disposal and recycling of used electronics, with the reintroduction of the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA).
The legislation, an earlier version of which was introduced in the 112th Congress but never moved out of committee, would prevent used electronics from being sent to developing countries unless they were found to be in working condition. The bill was submitted by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) alongside Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California). Green and Thompson were also the lawmakers behind the previous iteration of the bill, both having a long record of pushing for more regulation when it comes to how electronics are dealt with after they’re discarded.
House Resolution 2791, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) of 2013, has support from both sides of the political spectrum, with Republican co-sponsors in Reps. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) and Mike McCaul (R-Texas). Original Democratic co-sponsors include Reps. Thompson, Green and Louis Slaughter (D-New York).
Though RERA failed to become law during its last go-round, it sparked an intense debate within the scrap recycling industry, with coalitions of businesses and organizations on both sides of the bill lobbying for and against it. A group of nearly 30 U.S. electronics recycling firms showed their support for the legislation by forming the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER) in 2011. The new group’s stance stood in stark contrast to that of the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI), which lobbied against previous iterations of RERA on the grounds that these types of regulations on exports are both unnecessary and would harm the recycling sector.
Just hours after the latest version of RERA was introduced to Congress, ISRI issued a press release condemning the move. “The bill is fatally flawed,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “This bill will do nothing to end irresponsible recycling, and further, will limit any opportunity to promote environmentally sound electronics recycling standards in other countries by perpetuating the outdated approach of identifying environmental risk based simply on geographic location rather than responsible operating practices.”
CAER, meanwhile, released a statement lauding the bill. “CAER supports the export of tested, working electronics and recycled commodities around the world, which encourages economic development and job growth in the U.S. and contributes to our domestic economy,” said Bob Houghton of the CAER steering committee. “Developing nations can still get access to valuable, clean commodities, without absorbing the hazardous materials they had no part in creating.”
One of the ways CAER supported RERA in the past was through the release of a study, tying a ban on the export of some types of e-scrap to increased jobs in the U.S. “By carefully regulating the export of e-waste, this bipartisan legislation creates good-paying recycling jobs here in the U.S., while taking concrete steps to address a growing environmental and health crisis,” said Rep. Thompson in a press release announcing the introduction of the bill.
In the ensuing months, debate over a potential export ban has continued, with the ranks of companies joining CAER growing to over 100 members. Some of the firms to join, including Sims Recycling Solutions and Waste Management, are also members of ISRI.
The law would also help develop a research program at the Department of Energy for improving technology and capacity for recovering and recycling rare earth materials.
This legislation is backed by: HP, Dell, Apple, Samsung, Best Buy, The Electronics TakeBack Coalition, the Natural Resources Defense Council and a number of recycling companies. Samsung was the first electronics manufacturer to publicly support HR 2791 saying that it was “proud to again support the passage of RERA.”