WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, July 26, 2023, at 10:00 AM ET, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, held a hearing to examine challenges facing electronic waste recycling and reuse as well as opportunities to improve critical mineral recovery.
Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“What do we mean by electronic waste? Electronic waste, or ‘e-waste,’ as many call it, consists of various electronic products, including televisions, home appliances, and batteries. These electronics are created using valuable materials, such as nickel, which can and should be recycled.
“As some of you may know, recycling has been a lifelong passion of mine. I have recycled just about everything from a Ford Explorer to a dehumidifier and much more. Doing so benefits our environment as well as our economy—a win-win.
“Unfortunately, our current systems don’t always make it easy to recycle e-waste. Each year, around 50 million tons of electronic waste are discarded in landfills globally, valued at an estimated $62.5 billion.
“These figures don’t include the electronic waste, such as old smartphones and computers, that often remain in our homes collecting dust long after we stop using them.
“In addition to their lost value, the electronics that end up in landfills often leach toxic chemicals into the soil, threatening the health and well-being of nearby communities.
“So, how did we get here, and what do we do about it? Several factors have contributed to the growing problem of pollution from e-waste.
“First, consumer demand, alongside rapid technological innovation, has led to a steady increase in the production of new electronics. Sadly, our ability to make use of the rare materials contained within discarded e-waste hasn’t kept pace with this production.
“In addition, insufficient domestic e-waste recycling standards, limited recycling infrastructure, and a lack of education have furthered our growing electronic waste dilemma.
“Many producers have contributed to this problem as well, creating barriers to repairing devices by limiting the availability of parts, tools, and information needed to keep things working. This forced scarcity drives up the consumption of new products.
“Fortunately, the adversities of e-waste also present us with clear opportunities.
“For example, recycling electronics at the end of their useable life allows for the recovery of critical minerals, such as nickel and cobalt. Both are important components of electric vehicles, solar panels, and other clean energy technologies. Improving e-waste recycling would help us reach our climate goals, while also reducing our reliance on foreign sources for critical earth minerals.
“In addition, taking proper care of our electronic waste is vital to national security, as it ensures adequate supply chains and prevents the loss of sensitive information through digital files.
“Today, we’re interested in learning more about the role that the federal government can and should play in e-waste recycling. This includes the creation of standards that shore up our supply chains and protect human health and our environment.
“That being said, the companies that create electronic waste must also take greater responsibility for reducing waste and recycling their products. We are already beginning to see innovation in this space. As we will hear today, Li-Cycle is pioneering battery recycling technology that allows us to recapture critical minerals. In addition, Human-I-T is employing refurbishment techniques that extend the life of electronic products.
“From experience, we know that when industry, environmental groups, and all levels of government join forces to address our environmental challenges, we all benefit.
“As a co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus with Senator Boozman, I know that most Americans want to do the right thing when it comes to e-waste disposal. Still, they are often unsure of where to go or how to do it.
“Unfortunately, many municipalities either don’t accept electronic waste through curbside recycling programs or don’t offer e-waste recycling at all. Consumers are limited to manufacturer takeback programs or have no option but to put their electronics in the trash.
“We now have an opportunity to improve e-waste recycling—and, I believe we are. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, we included funding to develop battery recycling technology and best practices, as well as to improve public education and recycling infrastructure. These investments are a starting point to help increase electronic recycling rates.
“In addition, the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act—legislation that I introduced with Senators Capito and Boozman and that this committee advanced unanimously in April—would take a close look at where materials are being lost from circularity. This critical information could help improve how we recycle electronics.
“Let me close by again thanking our witnesses for joining us in our efforts to improve electronics recycling. Today, we hope to hear your thoughts on how we can improve our efforts to establish a circular economy for electronic waste.
“Together, I’m confident that we can rise to the gravity of this challenge and seize the day.”