AUSTIN -- Recently, the Senate Research Center published the report “E-Waste Dilemma” which outlines what steps the state and federal governments are taking to safely manage discarded consumer electronics. This Capitol Update contains portions of this publication. If you would like to view the entire publication, or if you would like a copy mailed to you, please feel free to contact my office.
The Information Age has created a society that is global, informed, wired, and connected. The technological advances of the Information Age have also generated massive amounts of discarded electronics waste, or e-waste. Every year, an estimated 100 million computers and other electronic devices break or become obsolete and are discarded. E-waste is not limited to personal computers, but includes office equipment, monitors, cell phones, keyboards, printers, scanners, personal digital assistants (PDAs), iPods, televisions, VCRs, DVD players, household appliances, microwave ovens, and all the cords, cables, mice, and peripherals and accessories for those devices.
Disposal of e-waste can be inconvenient, expensive, labor-intensive, and even dangerous. When electronic devices are disposed of in landfills, some valuable materials contained in the devices are wasted. When properly managed, some materials in e-waste, including copper, gold, and aluminum, can be a source of reusable secondary raw materials. But some materials such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, can be toxic and can contaminate the environment; if deposited in a landfill, these materials can leach into the soil and water, and burning the e-waste may create dangerous airborne emissions. Researchers report that prolonged exposure to some of the metals has been shown to cause abnormal brain development in children, and nerve damage, endocrine disruption, and organ damage in adults.
In November, 2005, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its Report to Congressional Requesters entitled Electronic Waste; Strengthening the Role of the Federal Government in Encouraging Recycling and Reuse. GAO was asked to summarize information on the volumes of, and problems associated with, used electronics; examine the factors affecting their recycling and reuse; and examine federal efforts to encourage recycling and reuse of these products.
GAO reported that the growing volume of used electronics may pose environmental and health problems if not managed properly; cost, regulatory factors, and consumer inconvenience deter recycling and reuse of used electronics; and federal regulatory framework governing used electronics provides little incentive for recycling or reuse.
Shifting costs for managing discarded computers and electronics to brand owners and producers has created an incentive to improve product design and to reduce the use of toxic materials. Some activist groups, such as The Computer TakeBack Campaign, are calling for legislative solutions and are encouraging state-level policy reform requiring brand owner-financed collection and recycling of hazardous electronic products. A number of states are developing e-waste legislation; until recently, most of the legislation has called for voluntary action, but a few states have enacted mandatory recycling and reuse of certain e-wastes.
The 79th Legislature, Regular Session, 2005, passed H.B. 2793, relating to the removal and collection of convenience switches from motor vehicles. Due to the presence of mercury-containing convenience light switches in motor vehicles, mercury can be emitted to the atmosphere when shredded vehicles are melted in high temperature processes as part of the steel recycling process. The United States Environmental Protection Agency is expected to pass regulations this year requiring the reduction of mercury emissions and will recognize state removal programs as a method of compliance.
To contact Sen. Deuell about the legislative process, contact the Capitol Office at (512) 463-0102 or mail to Sen. Bob Deuell, Texas Senate, P.O. Box 12068, Austin, TX 78711. The website for the Texas Senate is www.senate.state.tx.us. The e-mail address for Sen. Deuell is: firstname.lastname@example.org.