US Congressional group eyes e-waste disposal laws

Von Todd R.

Four members of the U.S. House of Representatives have created the Congressional E-Waste Working Group to work on standardizing national laws for the recycling and disposal of discarded electronic and computer equipment.

In an announcement Tuesday, the four representatives said they formed the bipartisan working group to find ways to make the recycling and disposal process more efficient nationwide.

"E-waste is a national problem that needs a national solution," Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "Since the year 2000, we"ve increased the number of electronics entering the waste stream by at least 10 million units. As we continue to dispose of more and more units each year, finding a national disposal approach becomes more and more critical. We can no longer afford to ignore this growing problem."

Joining Slaughter were Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Mary Bono (R-Calif.).

The working group will explore potential solutions to a growing electronic waste problem, and at the same time educate members of Congress about its consequences. More than 50 million computers are disposed of each year, the working group said, and the machines contain harmful elements, such as lead, cadmium and mercury, that can leach into the environment if not disposed of properly.

"Electronic recycling has not received the attention it deserves from the federal government, and this is why we have established the E-Waste Working Group," Cunningham said in a statement. "My colleagues and I stand here today to show our personal commitment to solving this important issue."

Two states, California and Maine, already have e-waste laws, and Maryland recently joined them in the cleanup effort, according to the working group. Another 24 states are considering their own laws.

But that creates a problem for computer and electronics makers, retailers and others, because they will face different disposal laws in different states, the working group said. Instead, standardized national regulations are needed to create uniform disposal procedures across the country.

Manufacturers have tried to create standards in the past but have been split on how best to devise such a program.

The working group hopes to hold a congressional hearing on the issue this summer. After its creation was announced Tuesday, representatives of the Consumer Electronics Association, the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition, the Electronics Industries Alliance, Panasonic, Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Goodwill Industries met for a congressional staff briefing on the topic.