Today marks Earth Day around the world, and on this day we focus on the challenges affecting our planet and how we can ease our impact on the environment. One of the ways we can improve the environment is the responsible stewardship of electronics and ensuring that old laptops and phones don’t end up in landfills. E-waste is the largest growing waste stream in the country. According to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency estimates, more than five million tons of electronics were in storage; of those, 2.37 million tons were ready for end-of-life management, yet only twenty-five percent were collected for recycling.The federal government has been taking steps to ensure that it is leading by example and becomes a more responsible user of electronics and directs items to certified e-waste recyclers.
The federal government as a whole is the nation’s largest consumer of electronics. That is why the Obama Administration issued the National Strategy for Electronic Stewardship in 2011. The strategy outlines responsible use and disposal of electronics in the federal government. As part of the strategy, GSA has issued guidance to federal agencies banning landfill disposal of electronics, and that guidance is now on its way to becoming a federal regulation.
Everyday office electronics such as smart phones, laptops, monitors, televisions, copy machines, fax machines, and small metering devices are made with rare and precious metals, plastic, and glass, all of which can be recycled. Electronics also contain small amounts of toxic materials, and they must be disposed of properly to prevent harm to human health and the environment.
The new regulation will ban all federal agencies from disposing of electronic waste in landfills. This is an important step for the federal government. Under the regulation, reusing electronics remains the priority. As computers, phones, and monitors outlive their usefulness, they will be offered for reuse by other agencies or donated to schools, state and local government offices, and eligible non-profits. Usable electronics can also be sold. Electronics that have reached the end of their useful life will be recycled by third-party certified e-waste recyclers. Additionally, we encourage recipients of used government electronics to follow the same reuse and recycling standards as the federal government.
The policy incorporates the use of certified recyclers. The electronic recycling industry has adopted two industry environmentally sound standards, R2 and e-Stewards. Certified recyclers are regularly audited by their respective 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 regulation and a key focus of the plan. GSA, working with other federal agencies, has put forth a policy that will include a requirement for agencies to submit data for all disposed electronics. We’ll start to more effectively account for every device leaving the government, and we’ll report that information to the public on Data.gov.
GSA’s government-wide e-waste regulation is now on the Federal Register’s website for review and remains open for public comments until May 5th. We welcome your input as we further our efforts to sustainably dispose of electronics. View the e-waste Federal Register notice here.