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Policy Statement 527 - Recycling of Electronic Wastes

 

Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on February 13, 2017 
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on June 5, 2017
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 29, 2017 

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports:

  • Policies that comprehensively promote effective and efficient collection and proper recycling of electronics waste.
  • Legislation that is consistent with the principles of product stewardship and that targets all electronic wastes for recycling and reuse in an environmentally safe and economic manner.  
  • A Federal study in conjunction with industry partners to determine the amount and distribution of electronic waste generation and the opportunities for recycling and reuse of these products. 

Issue

Electronic waste is a rapidly growing component of our daily solid waste stream.  The growth of the electronics industry, due to economic growth as well as the increased demands for consumer goods, has multiplied the quantities of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), but also ensures a continued increase in this portion of the waste stream. In May 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that only 25 percent of the nation's 2.37 million tons of electronic wastes was collected for recycling. The overall quantity of electronic wastes is expected to increase greatly in the coming years, offering growing opportunities for economic recycling and reuse of the valuable electronic and other components in this waste stream. However, the location and accessibility of electronic wastes is not well known.

In addition, many electronic products contain toxic materials (e.g., lead, mercury, cadmium, and the like) that are safe when used as directed, but they may be hazardous when disposed of improperly. This has resulted in individual states passing legislation that requires the effective and efficient collection and proper recycling of electronic wastes. This state-by-state approach could result in 50 different legislative mandates relative to electronics recycling which would be problematic and expensive to the electronics industry and consumers alike, therefore hindering efforts to recycle and/or to properly dispose of the growing volume of electronic wastes.      

Rationale 

Currently, there is no comprehensive national U.S. program of shared federal and state responsibilities to address the proliferation of electronic waste in our solid waste stream.  Unlike the U.S., the European Union has issued the WEEE Directive that regulates the recycling of WEEE as well as creating a restriction on hazardous substances that aims to reduce the amount of toxic substances used in electronic manufacturing by substituting for those toxic materials. Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Japan, have implemented take back laws that require manufacturers to take responsibility of the WEEE at the end of its useful life. This policy statement acknowledges the need for a legislative initiative that calls for comprehensive and responsible product stewardship that will best ensure that the product end-of-life issues are addressed in an environmentally sound manner. 

The principles of product stewardship also embody manufacturing processes that eliminate or minimize the utilization of hazardous constituents such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, along with using reusable or recyclable materials, thereby reducing the environmental impacts of electronic products. Product stewardship also includes the manufacturing of products that can more easily and inexpensively be upgraded rather than being discarded for newer and improved models. Collectively, such product stewardship measures will help to conserve energy resources and minimize pollution.

ASCE Policy Statement 527
First Approved in 2008

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