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New CE Recycling Rules Inadequate: Environmentalists

San Francisco — New standards for electronics recyclers issued today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do little to prevent the dumping of “e-waste” in developing countries, two environmental groups charge.

According to Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, here, the EPA’s new R2 guidelines contain enough loopholes to allow recyclers to comply with the rules and still export toxic e-waste to developing countries in violation of their laws. “These standards have zero support from the environmental community and are worthless to any Fortune 500 company [that] needs to use a truly responsible recycler,” she said.

The Coalition, a national group of non-profit organizations promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry, along with the Basel Action Network (BAN), had been part of the R2 stakeholder dialogue which helped craft the guidelines. But both groups said they withdrew in protest over the adoption of inadequate standards and the failure to prohibit the use of prison recycling operations and the incineration of e-waste.

According to the EPA, the voluntary R2 guidelines include 13 principles to help electronics recyclers ensure their material is handled safely and legally in the United States and foreign countries. It calls on recyclers to establish a management system for environmental and worker safety; develop a policy that promotes reuse and material recovery over landfill or incineration; and use practices that reduce exposures or emissions during recycling operations.

The principles also call for recyclers to use diligence to assure appropriate management of materials throughout the recycling chain, including materials that are exported to foreign countries.

BAN is currently developing its own electronics recycling standard and certification program. “We were hoping the R2 process would lead to an audited certification program with high standards,” said Sarah Westervelt, BAN’s e-waste project coordinator. “But when we saw that R2 was not going to result in a good standard, we decided we needed to develop our own.”