Committee on Science and Technology
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Press Releases :: February 11, 2009

Committee Spearheads Plan To Make Recycling E-Waste Easier

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing to review a discussion draft of the Electronic Waste Research Development Act of 2009. Members heard testimony regarding how research and development (R&D) could help address the challenges of managing the disposal of electronic products, or e-waste, within the United States.

“Obsolete electronic products, or e-waste, can contain both valuable materials, like gold and silver, and toxic materials, like lead and mercury—none of which belongs in a landfill,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).  “While we need to increase the amount of e-waste that is recycled, we also need to make recycling electronics safer and more efficient by investing in research in recycling technology, alternative materials and greener design.”

Between 1980 and 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated 2 billion electronic products were sold in the U.S. Of these, a little more than half are still in use and 42 percent were disposed of.  A mere 11 percent of the disposed products were recycled, and 9 percent were collecting dust in storage.  The e-waste that is recycled is sometimes sent to developing countries where unprotected workers—often children—use dangerous methods to recover the valuable materials.

“E-waste is a growing problem worldwide. Current sorting technology cannot differentiate the many types of plastics coming into recycling plants. This technology can be improved and research can be done to facilitate the use of mixed recycled plastics in new products,” said Gordon. “We need to get engineers thinking about recycling and green design of products, and make it central to the way in which they approach their jobs.”

Recycling electronics in the United States faces many challenges: efficiently disassembling products, safely removing hazardous substances, efficiently processing materials, and recovering value from materials. E-waste R&D could help make recycling safer, cheaper, and more efficient.

“The Electronic Waste Research Development Act of 2009 represents what I hope will be a first step at the federal level in addressing the growing crisis,” stated Gordon. “This bill will help foster innovation that will reduce the impact of the e-waste produced by Americans through recycling, re-use, and a reduction in the volume of waste generated.”

The legislation is based on testimony from a Committee hearing and conversations with industry leaders. 

The provisions in the draft legislation include:

  • R&D:  The bill creates a grant program for university researchers, working in collaboration with industry partners, to lessen the impact of electronic products on the environment.  Research areas include:
    • improved technology for recycling (such as for sorting and de-manufacturing);
    • new uses for material recycled from electronics;
    • product design to facilitate recycling and/or re-use;
    • greener alternative to hazardous materials;
    • tools to understand and measure the impact of electronics production and disposal of the environment;
    • and social science research to increase consumer participation in recycling and understanding of the impact of electronics on the environment.
  • Education/Workforce Development: The bill has three educational components:
    • Curriculum development grants to transform undergraduate engineering curriculum and courses to include topics in green design; 
    • the creation of internships for students to work on issues related to e-waste with an industry partner; 
    • and, grants for workforce training in the green design, re-use, and recycling industries through community colleges.

For more information or witness testimony, visit the Committee’s website.

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News from the House Science and Technology Committee
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Bart Gordon, Chairman
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