U.S. Federal Legislation


Existing Legislation and Policies that Apply to E-Waste

Final Rules on Cathode Ray Tubes and Discarded Mercury-Containing Equipment
This portion of the U.S. EPA web site provides information regarding these two rules, which were proposed in the same action in 2003. In order to expedite the regulatory process, the actions were separated and each now stands alone.

A cathode ray tube (CRT) is the glass video display component of an electronic device (usually a computer or television monitor). The Cathode Ray Tubes final rule streamlines management requirements for recycling of used CRTs and glass removed from CRTs under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The amendments exclude these materials from the RCRA definition of solid waste if certain conditions are met. The rule is intended to encourage recycling and reuse of used CRTs and CRT glass. Used CRTs exported for recycling must comply with requirements that are specified in detail in 40 CFR 261.39(a)(5). The U.S. EPA site linked to above outlines these requirements. Note that EPA published a revision to the CRT rule on June 26, 2014 that revises certain export provisions of the 2006 CRT final rule. These changes will allow the Agency to obtain additional information to better track exports of CRTs for reuse and recycling in order to ensure safe management of these materials. The final 2014 rule is available on the web site linked to at the beginning of this section. A fact sheet providing an overview of the revisions is available at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/recycling/electron/crt_rul_fs_070114.pdf.

The Discarded Mercury-Containing Equipment Final Rule adds mercury-containing equipment to the federal list of universal wastes regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste regulations. Handlers of universal wastes are subject to less stringent standards for storing, transporting, and collecting these wastes. EPA believes this will lead to better management of this equipment and will facilitate compliance with hazardous waste requirements.

U.S. EPA eCycling Regulations/Standards page: Consult this page regarding special exemptions from federal hazardous waste rules for circuit boards. This page also includes information on the disposal of CRTs and other electronics that test "hazardous". For the complete federal hazardous waste requirements for generators, consult 40 CFR Parts 260-262.

See also EPA's Regulatory Program for "E-Waste" (PDF) and Export of Used & Scrap Electronics: What You Need to Know (PDF).

Executive Order (EO) 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, was signed on October 5, 2009. EO 13514 introduced new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions management requirements, expands water reduction requirements for federal agencies, and addresses waste diversion, local planning, sustainable buildings, environmental management, and electronics stewardship. This executive order set as a target procurement preference for EPEAT-registered electronic products (see note below about Executive Order 13693 of March 19, 2015), and called for specific management strategies to improve sustainability including employing environmentally sound practices for the disposition of all agency excess or surplus electronic products. This executive order called for US General Services Administration (GSA), the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and the Environmental Protection Agency to create the National Strategy on Electronics Stewardship (NSES). The National Strategy, released in the summer of 2011, tasked GSA to develop policies for federal agencies to responsibly purchase, manage, and recycle electronics. On March 1, 2012, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson announced new guidelines banning all federal agencies from disposing of electronic waste in landfills. The policy will ensure that the federal government is leading by example and that all of its electronics are managed effectively in the disposal process. The policy will also direct electronics to certified recyclers, creating more opportunities for the e-waste industry. That policy directs federal agencies to reuse electronics to the maximum extent possible and then direct non-functioning products to certified e-waste recyclers. As electronics reach the end of their utility, asset managers will offer these products to be reused at other agencies, schools, state and local governments, or offer them for sale. Federal agencies are being banned from disposing of these materials in landfills or incinerators, and instead they will now send them to third-party certified e-waste recyclers—under R2 or eStewards—when reuse is not an option. Additionally, recipients of used government electronics are being encouraged to follow the same reuse and certified recycling standards as the federal government.

"Moving Sustainable Electronics Forward: An Update to the National Stategy for Electronics Stewardship" was published on August 1, 2014 by the Interagency Task Force on Electronics Stewardship. The report focuses on the major achievements under the NSES as of July 2014, as well as the impacts of improved electronics stewardship and the significance of upcoming commitments within the NSES.

Executive Order 13693 of March 19, 2015. This exectuive order, entitled 'Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade,' met with controversy because of the notable exclusion of any mention of EPEAT. For nearly a decade prior to this point, 95% of all electronics purchased by federal agencies were required to be EPEAT registered products. For more information, see the 4/23/15 article written by Alison Moodie for the Guardian, Is the Obama administration lowering the bar on green electronics?. UPDATE, 6/18/15: Implementation instructions for this Executive Order, dated June 10, 2015, make it clear that EPEAT is the only existing tool to achieve the electronic stewardship mandates of the order. This allays the fears of those who thought the omission of direct mention of EPEAT in the order would lead to weakening or failure as a tool for environmentally preferable purchasing. For more information, see the Resource Recycling article Federal government sticks with EPEAT after all.

Pending or Proposed U.S. Federal Legislation Related to E-Waste

H.R. 2791: Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) of 2013
This bill was introducted in the House of Representatives in the 113th Congress on 7/23/13. From the press release announcing the bill's introduction by Reps. Mike Thompson (CA) and Gene Green (TX), RERA "creates a new section in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) that prohibits the export of 'restricted electronic waste' from the U.S. to countries that are not members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or the European Union (EU). Restricted electronic equipment refers to any equipment that contains specific toxic materials at levels greater than those deemed non- hazardous by the EPA. In 2008, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that many of the developing nations that receive e-waste from the United States do not have the capacity or facilities to safely recycle and dispose of these used electronics.

Under the legislation, tested and working equipment can still be exported to promote reuse. Products could also still be exported for warranty repair or due to recall. However, consumer electronic equipment, parts, and materials that contain toxic chemicals could not be exported to nations outside of OECD member countries or the EU. This legislative approach is consistent with the e-waste policies adopted by most other developed nations via international treaties, such as the Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment.

H.R. 2791 also creates a research program at the Department of Energy to help assess the recycling and recovery of Rare Earth Metals from electronics. This provision will help ensure the proper collection and recycling of precious and strategic metals."

See also a recent article in Waste Management World (Vol. 14, Issue 5) by Neil Peters-Michaud, CEO of Cascade Asset Management and a member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling, which discusses myths associated with this bill and explains why the bill is receiving widespread support from the recycling industry, electronics manufacturers, retails, and environmental groups: Myth Busting: The U.S. Responsible Electronics Recycling Act.

On 7/15/14, the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling issued a press release stating that defense and technology experts expressed support for RERA at a recent Congressional briefing. Their reason? The export of non-functioning or untested electronics is allegedly providing feedstock for counterfeiters in countries like China. Scrap microchips may be washed and relabeled to look new by such counterfeiting operations. These counterfeit electronics could present threats to safety and security, if they were to be used like new components in equipment and fail. The example given in the press release is that of an airplane–you wouldn’t want an older, component, sold as if it were new, to fail mid-flight. Panelists argued that RERA would combat the problem of counterfeit electronics in defense supply chains by requiring the domestic recycling of nonworking, non-tested e-waste. Plus, it could create US jobs.

This bill should not be confused with H.R. 2284, introduced on 6/22/11 in the 112th Congress, which was also known as the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act. That bill died (i.e. was referred to committee but was not enacted). See http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr2284.

S. 1397: Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act
This bill proposed to authorize the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to award grants for electronic device recycling research, development, and demonstration projects, and for other purposes. Introduced 7/06/09 in the U.S. Senate. On 12/10/09, the bill was updated by the Committee on Environment and Public Works. On 7/21/2011 the bill was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. This bill died (i.e. was not enacted--see http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/s1397).

H.R. 1580: The Electronic Waste Research and Development Act

This bill proposed to authorize the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to award grants for electronic device recycling research, development, and demonstration projects, and for other purposes. Introduced 3/18/09 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Passed the House (4/22/09) and wasreceived by the Senate (as of 4/23/09). The above link provides the full text of the bill and outlines bill actions. This bill died (i.e. was not enacted). It passed the House, but did not pass the Senate--see http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/111/hr1580.

The following are links to testimony provided before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology during a hearing on "Electronic Waste: Investing in Research and Innovation to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle," 2/11/09:

Legislation and Policies that Apply to Electronics in Other Life-cycle Stages

Cell phone unlocking: On August 1, 2014, President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act (S.517) into law. This repeals a 2012 decision by the Library of Congress that made cell phone unlocking a violation of the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA, which prohibits Americans from "circumventing" technologies that protect copyrighted works, gives the Library of Congress the authority to grant exemptions. In 2013, the Library of Congress opted not to renew the DMCA exemption for cell phone unlocking, which it had granted in 2006 and 2010. For further information, see the article "President signs cell phone unlocking bill into law" from CNET and the Wikipedia article on the act. The text of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act is also available online. For more detailed background on the legal battle over the issue of cell phone unlocking, see the blog post by Kyle Wiens of iFixit entitled "White House Backs the Right to Unlock Your Phone. Will Congress?"

Cell phone kill switches: There has been a great deal of recent debate and activity around the idea of requiring "kill switches" for cell phones--a means to render the device inoperable if stolen, the idea being that such a function would reduce the rising problem of cell phone theft. For a nice summary of the issues see the article by Martyn Williams for PC World dated 6/24/14 entitled "10 things to know about the smartphone kill switch." In the article, Williams states the following related to efficacy of kill switch measures: "It's too early to tell, although some early data from New York, London and San Francisco showed significant drops in thefts of iPhones after Apple launched its kill switch. However, the causes of crime are complex and it's much too early to draw a direct link. But it's safe to say a kill switch won't do anything to encourage smartphone theft." An aspect of the debate which the media does not seems to cover often is what, if any, effect such measures will have on the reuse of cell phones; a kill switch would render a device completely inoperable, and the only way to obtain value from such a device would be to recycle it. It is conceivable that a user could lose or misplace a phone, possibly mistakenly think that it has been stolen and at least feel that action should be taken to protect any data on the device. In such instances kill switches could render fully functional devices inoperable, adding to the growing volume of e-waste and the need to use minerals and other finite resources to create new phones. It is also too early to tell if kill switch measures will impact device reuse in a significant way. See the SEI U.S. State & Local Legislation page for information on states with kill switch legislation.

Conflict mineral sourcing: Conflict minerals (aka 3Ts & G) include tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. These valuable resources are used in a wide variety of product, including consumer electronics (see http://www.sourcingnetwork.org/storage/Product-Mineral-Chart.pdf for a chart summarizing consumer products containing these elements and their functions). The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an incredibly mineral-rich area. DRC has the 3Ts & G, as well as diamonds. Control of these valuable resources adds to the violent conflicts among warring groups in the region. See http://www.sourcingnetwork.org/minerals/ and http://www.enoughproject.org/conflict-minerals. Violent factions fight for control of the mines and use profits to further their side's interests. Atrocities, particularly rape, are used to control the populace and force labor in the mines. "Since 1996, the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has claimed at least six million lives. Further, rape, sexual violence, torture, forced labor and use of child soldiers have been used as a tool of war to degrade communities and displace people. As Global Fund for Women reports, more than 500,000 women have been raped over the past decade in the Congo. The link between revenue generation from minerals and the purchase of weapons and exploitation of people is strong and has been well documented."--Responsible Sourcing Network. Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act (HR 4173) requires US companies that report to the Securities & Exchange Commission to publicly report whether or not the conflict minerals they use come from the DRC or surrounding countries. There are no penalties for using minerals from DRC, but transparency provides incentive to act to reap the benefits of consumer esteem tied to proactive policies. First reports were filed in May 2014; they are due in May every year therefter. See http://www.sec.gov/News/PressRelease/Detail/PressRelease/1365171484002#.U7W-2mPIB7s. For further information, see the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI) at http://www.conflictfreesourcing.org/. This is a good resource for manufacturers, including listings of conflict-free smelters and refiners. Also provides training and a conflict mineral reporting template. See also the Enough Project/Raise Hope for Congo Conflict Minerals Company Rankings: http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/conflict-minerals-company-rankings. Purchasers may use this to select products based on a company's commitment to responsible sourcing.

If you would like to suggest laws or policies not mentioned above for inclusion on this page, please contact Joy Scrogum.