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 James M. Jeffords
An Oversight Hearing on Electronics Waste

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this general oversight hearing on electronic waste.

Computers, televisions and other electronic products have enriched our lives in a multitude of ways. They have also created a new problem: how to properly manage these products once they reach the end of their useful life.

The sheer volume of electronic waste is staggering. Each year, an estimated 220 tons of computers and other electronic waste are dumped in landfills or incinerated in the U.S. It is estimated that almost 50 million computers and monitors and approximately 20 million televisions became obsolete in 2003.

The challenge of properly managing this much scrap is compounded by the presence of harmful toxins. EPA confirms that electronic scrap often qualifies as – quote – “hazardous waste” – because it fails the Agency’s toxicity test. Each computer and monitor contains an average of 4-8 pounds of lead, making computer monitors and televisions the greatest source of lead in municipal landfills. The greatest source of mercury in these landfills is from batteries, switches, and printed wiring boards. Likewise, the leading source of cadmium is from rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries found in laptop computers.

From a resource conservation perspective, it is far better to reuse and recycle these materials rather than discard them. For instance, the U.S. Geological Survey reports that 1 metric ton of computer scrap contains more gold than 17 tons of ore and much lower levels of harmful elements common to ores, such as arsenic, mercury, and sulfur. However, in 2003, only 10% of consumer electronics were recycled in the U.S. The remaining 90% were stored, disposed of in landfills or incinerators, or exported for reuse or recycling.

In the absence of a national solution, a patchwork of differing state requirements is emerging. Four states have banned landfill disposal of cathode ray tubes and three states have passed electronic waste legislation. Twenty six other states reportedly are considering electronic waste legislation. Some retailers and manufacturers have created voluntary recycling programs to deal with this problem. This patchwork of state regulation and limited industry involvement is not sufficient to address the expected growth in electronic waste. I’m also concerned that it could place unnecessary costs on U.S. manufacturers if forced to comply with inconsistent state regulations.

For these reasons, a national program is needed to provide incentives for the greater collection and proper recycling of electronic waste. The key question is how to finance the development of the infrastructure needed to address this looming problem. A variety of options have been proposed, ranging from an advance recovery fee on the sale of new equipment to a requirement that manufacturers take back their own equipment. Senators Wyden and Talent have suggested an innovative alternative approach that uses tax incentives to encourage greater recycling.

I was pleased to work with Senator Wyden on a similar recycling tax incentive in the Senate energy bill. The provision would create a 15 percent tax credit for the purchase of equipment used to process or sort recycled materials, including electronic waste. While modest, this provision is a first step towards building an electronic waste recycling infrastructure.

I look forward to hearing the expert testimony today from EPA, industry and other interested stakeholders on their views on how to develop, fund, and administer a national electronic waste recycling program. I hope to be able to work with you and other members of this subcommittee on bipartisan legislation that would help build the infrastructure to mitigate the environmental impacts from electronic waste disposal and to maximize the resource recovery to be gained by greater electronic waste recycling.