Electronics recycling in the United States suffers from the same maddening conflict as national health-care reform: Almost everyone agrees it needs to happen, and no one is able to build a real consensus to make it happen.
E-waste is a very real and very visible and very growing problem. Yet for years now, government, industry and environmental groups have struggled and largely failed to agree on any comprehensive plan that adequately addresses the many environmental concerns the issue raises while serving as a solution most everyone can live with.
The most effective plans to date have been implemented by states or individual companies, but there are broader national and international issues that must be addressed for the sake of both efficiency and safety.
Debate continues over different certification standards for the recycling of electronic waste. Environmental proponents say the Basel Action Network's e-Stewards Certification is more effective than RIOS (Recycling Industry Operating Standard), developed by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, and the voluntary R2 (Responsible Recycling) program from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Meanwhile, electronics industry groups are fighting an e-waste law in New York City because of what they see as excessive restrictions and stipulations on how to recycle the e-waste.
The issues are obviously complex and involve stakeholders with widely varying interests. But the inability to agree on national standards continues to handcuff efforts to make real progress in electronics recycling and keep them from being dumped in developing countries.
With U.S. health-care reform, a frustrated President Obama asked Congress to focus on what they agree on rather than what they don't agree on. It's a smart approach and should be applied by all stakeholders in electronics recycling as well. Let's get national standards and policies we can all agree on, even if it's simplistic and far short of an ideal solution. Agreements on details can always be worked on later.
Because while the stakeholders all debate the best e-waste solutions, the computers and TVs keep piling up, here and abroad.
Gerlat is editor of Waste & Recycling News, an Akron, Ohio-based sister publication of Plastics News. This column originally appeared in W&RN's March 1 issue.
Copyright 2010 Crain Communications Inc. All Rights Reserved.