Cleaning Up Electronic Waste (E-Waste)
In December 2013, the United Nations University’s Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP) Initiative published “Quantitative Characterization of Domestic and Transboundary Flows of Used Electronics: Analysis of Generation, Collection, and Export in the United States,” a report produced by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Center for Electronics Recycling, funded by EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs as a commitment under the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship (NSES).
EPA has recognized the need for a scientific-based approach to getting better information on e-waste flows from the United States. Partnering with UNU’s StEP Initiative has moved us closer to that goal. Specifically, EPA committed to “improve information on trade flows and handling of used electronics,” which this report accomplishes.
From computers and cell phones, to portable communication and music devices -- the United States of America is a global leader in designing and developing new and improved electronic technologies. With this vibrant innovation, however, comes the increasing challenge of protecting human health and the environment from the potentially harmful effects of poorly managed manufacturing, use, recovery, recycling and disposal of these products.
Currently, most discarded consumer elctronics end up in our landfills. While accurate data on the amount of e-waste being exported from the U.S. are not available, the United States government is concerned that these exports are being mismanaged abroad, causing serious public health and environmental hazards, and representing a lost opportunity to recover valuable resources effectively. U.S. laws and regulations are limited in their ability to prevent harmful exports of used electronics to developing countries.
While EPA continues to build upon its domestic efforts of improving management of discarded used electronics to minimize the growing stream of e-waste and to increase the recycling and reuse of these materials, EPA’s international efforts focus on addressing the problems caused when used electronics are exported to developing countries that lack the capacity to manage them safely, causing human health and environmental impacts amongst workers and communities. EPA efforts support the United States government's National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, which details the federal government’s plan to enhance the management of electronics throughout the product lifecycle
EPA collaborates with the United Nations University - Solving the E-waste Problem Initiative (StEP) to jointly address the e-waste problem in developing countries. EPA and StEP signed a cooperative agreement on this topic in November 2010. EPA and StEP are working collaboratively on tracking global flows of e-waste, strengthening Ethiopia's efforts to manage e-waste and engaging with China on e-waste management practices. EPA is a founding member of StEP and serves on the StEP Steering Committee.
Recent and Upcoming Events
- May 2013: EPA was recognized for its continued support at a "virtual" StEP General Assembly, with over 65 attendees from across the globe. The next annual in-person StEP General Assembly will take place in October.
- April 2013: EPA joined the government of Ethiopia and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in launching a $1 million GEF e-waste project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia April 17-19.
- April 2013: StEP released two key reports for Ethiopia and China that provide key information on how e-waste is managed in these countries.
- October 2012:At an international workshop co-hosted by USEPA and EPA Taiwan (EPAT) during the week of October 15th, 2012, participants from Asia, Africa and the LAC regions decided to establish a formal network for sharing policy-level information related to the management of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
- September 2012: Building on the international Stakeholder Dialogue held in Beijing in July, BCRC-Beijing organized a provincial-level stakeholder meeting in Shenzhen. The workshop identified cross-sector priorities related to e-waste management, recycling, and reducing associated pollution in key areas in Guangdong Province, which is home to Guiyu, a well-known location for informal e-waste recycling.
- July 2012: StEP and Tsinghua University hosted an E-Waste Management Stakeholder Dialogue in Beijing from July 16-17.
- June 2012: The United Nations University - Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative (StEP) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) hosted an E-waste Academy (EWA) for policymakers and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), June 25-29, 2012 in Accra, Ghana. The EWA will enable coordination in addressing e-waste and facilitate exchange of best practices and expert feedback, taking into account regional disparities.
For additional information on EPA's international work on e-waste, contact:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of International and Tribal Affairs (2670R)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460