Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled, “Improving Capacity for Critical Mineral Recovery through Electronic Waste Recycling and Reuse."
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you all for being here with us today.
“A lot of my statement is going to mirror a lot of what the Chairman said in his statement because I think most Americans who are listening to this are going to have the same kind of echoing, ‘what are we going to do here?’ because we all have that issue. We're talking about end-of-life management of electronic waste in the United States.
“Too often, we pay too little mind, we put it in the basement or attic, to the mounting volume of electronic waste generated in our lives.
“Whether it’s the dusty boxes of old phones, laptops, and cords sitting in our closets, or improperly throwing electronic waste in our curbside trash bins, it’s an issue we quickly dismiss for being out of sight, out of mind.
“There are two misconceptions that I’d like to highlight, the first is that managing our electronic waste is an issue for a later date.
“This is an outgrowth of the poorly developed collection infrastructure that we have in place. This often limits electronic waste disposal to only the most engaged people willing to visit a dump or drop-off facility.
“The second misconception is that our electronic waste is somebody else’s problem once we throw it away. This stems from the dismal state of consumer awareness and education.
“For example, it’s far too difficult for the average person to understand when a product is, or is not, considered electronic waste. I‘ve actually run into this issue myself.
“Further, many people are unaware that electronic waste should not be commingled with our usual household trash. This is an issue that has become too large to ignore.
“The EPA determined that electronic waste is the fastest-growing segment of the waste stream, both in the United States and around the world.
“Last year, some of the statistics the Chairman statements I’ll restate, an estimated 5.3 billion mobile phones were discarded worldwide, either thrown away, or taken out of service and [shoved] in a drawer or box.
“That tally helped contribute to the more than 50 million tons of electronic waste generated around the world last year.
“That number is expected to rise to nearly 75 million tons by 2030.
“Unsurprisingly, the end-of-life cycle management has failed to keep pace.
“Even the most optimistic estimates assume less than 20 percent of electronic waste is properly collected and recycled.
“The harmful consequences if we continue on this current path will have a resounding impact on the future this country.
“For example, improperly managed electronic waste exports contribute to intellectual property theft through microchip counterfeiting.
“Further, China’s recently threatened to curb exports of critical minerals abroad.
“That makes the dim reality of China’s dominance in rare earth mineral extraction perfectly clear.
“Taken together, these developments threaten our nation’s military readiness and economic competitiveness.
“Electronic waste also poses a challenge to public safety and the environment.
“Improperly disposed lithium-ion batteries are an increasing source of fires in landfills and garbage trucks.
“The landfill industry reports at least one fire per week in a vehicle caused by a lithium-ion battery, including one just a few weeks ago here in Washington, D.C.
“Electronic waste often contains toxic materials such as PCB’s, lead, and mercury that we export to developing countries with lax environmental standards.
“Despite the many challenges I’ve highlighted, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic, and I see four of them right here.
“By reducing our reliance on overseas mineral production and enhancing our domestic recycling efforts, we can bolster our national security and reduce potential vulnerabilities.
“Our capacity to refurbish and recover valuable materials from discarded electronic waste has greatly improved in just a few decades.
“Previously, electronic waste was just piled into a shredder to be sold as scrap.
“Now the industry is incorporating advanced technologies like robotics, optic scanning, and machine learning.
“These techniques allow discarded devices like a mobile phone to be surgically disassembled, maintaining the purity of high-grade materials for reuse.
“To illustrate just how far we’ve come, in 2020 institutional investors such as Morgan Stanley predicted that no lithium would be recycled commercially in the next decade. That was in 2020.
“To the contrary, this Committee will hear testimony from the CEO of a publicly traded company whose business is directly involved in recycling lithium.
“This is a testament to our ability to solve environmental issues with American innovation.
“It’s time for us to realize that we are throwing valuable economic assets in the trash under our current system.
“Our witness panel today represents the full spectrum of interests within the electronic waste recycling industry.
“I look forward to hearing your valuable insights on the state of innovation, best practices, and recommendations to help us realize the full potential of recycling electronic waste.
“With that, I yield back.”
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