Committee on Science and Technology
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Member Speeches :: April 22, 2009

Chairman Gordon’s Floor Speech on H.R. 1580, the Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act.

as prepared for delivery

Today I rise in support of H.R. 1580, the Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act. 
 
This bill represents a first step forward on a large and growing problem.
 
Every year, Americans send millions of old cell phones, televisions, computers, laptops and other electronic devices to landfills. Millions more are stored in desk drawers and attics by consumers unsure of how to get rid of an old computer.
 
These devices are often termed electronic waste, but waste is hardly an appropriate name for these sophisticated products. Many can still be used, and all can be recycled to recover their constituent materials. And, as the Science and Technology Committee learned through a series of hearings, electronics also can contain hazardous materials, like lead and cadmium, which do not belong in landfills.     
 
The Environmental Protection Agency reported that nearly 2 billion electronic products were sold between 1980 and 2004.
Unfortunately, of the hundreds of millions of now unwanted products, only about 15 percent are recycled. There are many hurdles to increasing this percentage, such as the cost of collecting and processing materials, and the low value or hazardous nature of many of the recovered materials.
 
The purpose of H.R. 1580 is to meet these challenges through research and development. The areas the bill addresses were identified through two Science and Technology Committee hearings held this Congress and last, and it reflects considerable input from electronics producers and manufacturers, recyclers, refurbishers, and environmental interest groups. 
 
It is supported by a broad group of stakeholders, including the Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition; Consumer Electronics Association; the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries; the Electronics Take Back Coalition; CTIA – The Wireless Association; and the National Association of Manufacturers.
 
I am also pleased that this bill is the product of bipartisan collaboration, and contains the input of both Democratic and Republican Members of our Committee. 
 
H.R. 1580 directs the Environmental Protection Agency to fund R&D that will enable efficient and affordable electronic device recycling, and find other means of reducing the impacts of electronic devices on our environment. Research can foster innovations to enable more efficient recycling, the selection of more environmentally friendly materials, better ways to educate consumers about electronics recycling, and methods to design products for easier disassembly and recycling.
The research supported by H.R. 1580 will also assess the environmental impact of electronic products over their entire lifecycle. This information will allow electronics producers, policymakers, and consumers to make wise environmental decisions.      
 
Specifically, the research grants authorized by this bill require university or government-lab researchers to work with an electronics producer, recycler, or related for-profit entity. The goal of H.R 1580 is to enable research that can be applied to this challenge as soon as possible.  
 
H.R. 1580 also authorizes the EPA, in consultation with the National Science Foundation, to fund grants that will give engineering students the tools and knowledge to incorporate environmental considerations into their future engineering endeavors.
We need our future engineers to understand that whatever they put together, will eventually have to be taken apart. Grants can also be made to those in electronic device production, recycling, refurbishing, and related industries to foster continuing education and worker training on the latest environmentally relevant information.   
 
Electronic devices have become indispensable tools for modern living, but they are unfortunately a modern environmental problem too. Research, development and innovation are a key component to addressing this environmental challenge. I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 1580.


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Bart Gordon, Chairman
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