U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   07/26/2005
Statement of Senator Lincoln Thune
An Oversight Hearing on Electronics Waste

Today’s hearing will come to order. Good afternoon and thank you all for coming. We are here this afternoon to hear testimony from various stakeholders concerning an issue that has been receiving an increased amount of attention as various states begin to grapple with the disposal of obsolete electronic devices.

Not only is the topic new to this Committee but it also marks my first hearing as subcommittee chairman. As this hearing gets underway I want to thank my fellow subcommittee members for joining me today and I look forward to working with them in the future regarding this and other issues under our subcommittee’s purview.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Americans own some 2 billion electronic products – about 24 products per household. Though e-waste constitutes less than 1.5 percent of municipal solid waste, it is piling up at three times the rate of other household trash, according to the U.S. EPA. Like many American families, I’m sure there’s a majority of folks in the hearing room today who have older televisions or computers sitting around their homes because they just don’t know what to do with them.

While some interest groups claim that electronic waste such as TV’s, computers and computer monitors pose a significant risk to human health due to the presence of toxins such as lead, mercury and cadmium, I look forward to hearing more from the EPA and other witnesses about the risk, if any, that electronics pose to the general public when disposed of in municipal landfills.

While it’s currently possible for older electronics to be recycled in hopes of recovering precious metals such as gold, copper, aluminum, and platinum: the latest estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency show that only consumers only recycle roughly 10% of all electronics. The remaining 90% of used consumer electronics are in storage, disposed of in landfills or incinerators, or exported for reuse or recycling.

I also look forward to hearing from our third panel which represents various stakeholders from the retail, manufacturing, recycling, and environmental sectors. In particular, I’m interested in learning more about what each of our witnesses think of the emerging patchwork of states e-waste initiatives and what it means to not only the future of collection/recycling but also what impact that the differing state e-waste initiatives mean to the U.S. economy and the competitive position of the U.S. electronics industry.

Before turning to our first panel, I would like to recognize Senator Boxer, the ranking member of our subcommittee for her opening statement. As many of you may know, California has placed a ban on electronics from the landfill and has created its own statewide program regarding e-waste. As I have discovered in preparation for this hearing it seems that this issue is very similar to layers of an onion – the more you learn the more complex it becomes.