Last week, GSA’s Office of Government-wide Policy released a bulletin outlining new guidelines banning all federal agencies from disposing of electronic waste in landfills. This is an important step for the federal government as we move to incorporate the responsible use and disposal of electronics that were outlined last summer in the National Strategy for Electronic Stewardship.
Under the new policy, reusing electronics remains the priority. Asset managers will first offer these products for reuse by other agencies. Then they will seek to donate them to schools, non-profits, and local governments or offer them for sale. For non-functioning items that must be disposed of, federal agencies agencies are now banned from sending these materials to landfills or incinerators; instead, they will recycle them with third-party certified e-waste recyclers. The policy also encourages recipients of used government electronics to follow the same reuse and recycling standards as the federal government.
The policy incorporates the use of recyclers certified under R2 and e-Stewards because these third-party standards have already been adopted by the electronics recycling industry as environmentally sound. A recycler must be certified to at least one of the two standards. Certified recyclers are regularly audited by these certification entities to ensure that electronics are processed in a manner that protects public health and the environment.
Transparency and accountability are a crucial part of the policy, and GSA is asking federal agencies to track the final destination of their discarded electronics. Starting this fiscal year, we’ll start to more effectively account for every device leaving the government, including where each one goes, then we’ll report that information to the public on Data.gov.
The electronics included in the policy are everyday office electronics such as mobile phones, computers, monitors, televisions, copy machines, fax machines, and small metering devices. These products are made with rare and precious metals, plastic, and glass. Electronics also contain toxic materials, and they must be disposed of properly.
In October of 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 that set sustainability goals for federal agencies to improve their environmental, energy and economic performance. This executive order called for GSA, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency to create the National Strategy on Electronic Stewardship. The National Strategy, released last summer, tasked GSA to develop policies for federal agencies to responsibly purchase, manage, and recycle electronics. Last week’s bulletin outlines the first policy that brings these goals across the federal government, and it previews a series of regulatory changes we’ll publish for public comment in the coming weeks.
The federal government as a whole is the nation’s largest consumer of electronics. The policy gives us the opportunity to lead by example and become a more responsible user of electronics while supporting jobs in the growing e-waste industry.