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EPA Chief Cites E-Waste as a Top Priority

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator Lisa Jackson said that the prevention and proper management of e-waste is one of the agency’s top six newly announced global priorities

The other five priorities were reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, improving water quality, reducing toxics exposures and building stronger institutional frameworks. 

Her comments came at a public reception to launch the 17th Session of the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, a body created with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA ) to mitigate environmental impacts of trade between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

“The electronics that provide us with convenience often end up discarded in developing countries where improper disposal can threaten local people and the environment. EPA recognizes this urgent concern and will work with international partners to address the issues of E-waste. In the near-term, EPA will focus on ways to improve the design, production, handling, reuse, recycling, exporting and disposal of electronics,” said Jackson in a press release.

Jackson’s comments follow the release of a report from the Government Accounting Office entitled Electronic Waste: Considerations for Promoting Environmentally Sound Reuse and Recycling. The report addresses the management and trade of hazardous electronic waste, urging EPA to stem the massive flow of U.S. e-waste overseas.

Electronic waste is exported from the U.S. to developing countries by many recyclers, to be “bashed, burned and melted down in unsafe conditions in developing countries, such as China, India, Nigeria and Ghana,” reports RecyclingPortal. In addition, a high percentage of children in these regions have high levels of lead in their blood as a result of the waste, according to the article.

The Basel Convention is an international treaty that governs trade in toxic waste. The U.S. signed the Basel Convention, but has never ratified it, and would need implementing legislation to do so, according to the Electronics Takeback Coalition.

Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network told RecyclingPortal: “Implementing the Basel Convention by itself will do more to legitimize shipments of electronic waste then it will to prohibit them. The administration must first ensure that a ban on exports to developing countries for hazardous wastes such as electronic waste is firmly in place as Basel alone could open the flood gates even wider.”

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