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The WRITE initiative was a collaborative approach that drew upon industry, state, local governments as well as the EPA's Risk Reduction Engineering Laboratory with the overall goal of developing more effective pollution prevention technologies that could assist the electronics manufacturing industry in developing a "crade to grave" approach to managing these products (Rappaport, 1999).
Besides these earlier efforts, in more recent years, increasingly rigorous laws and regulations have been implemented by the EPA with the goal of minimizing the impact of electronics and electrical device waste on the environment have began to make a major difference in recovering these toxic substances before they ever have a chance to become waste. For instance, pursuant to the above-mentioned Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, it is now illegal for companies in the United States to simply discard hazardous waste, including electronics and electrical devices, in normal trash receptacles (The importance of recycling computers, 2003). In this regard, Gaba (2008) reports that, "The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) establishes the so-called 'cradle to grave' program for the management of hazardous waste. Under Subtitle C. Of RCRA, hazardous 'solid waste,' as defined by the EPA, is subject to extensive controls on its storage, transportation, and disposal" (p. 1053). Electronics manufacturers are also being required to secure a waste management permit pursuant to the provisions of the RCRA that helps the EPA better monitor the waste disposal practices being used for these products (Sullivan, Agardy & Traub, 2001). According to the EPA's introduction to the RCRA, the main goals of the act are to:
1. To protect human health and the environment from the potential hazards of waste disposal;
2. To conserve energy and natural resources;
3. To reduce the amount of waste generated; and,
4. To ensure that wastes are managed in an environmentally sound manner (Introduction to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 2005).
Nevertheless, many computers, televisions, and other electronics continue to be discarded in landfills or waste-to-energy facilities. It is estimated that more than 20 million PCs become obsolete yearly in the United States, representing a mounting pile -- hundreds of thousands of tons -- of lead, mercury, chromium, silver, and battery acids from nickel-cadmium, lithium, or sealed lead-acid batteries (The importance of recycling computers, 2003). When electronic equipment reaches the end of its useful life, the businesses that own them should plan to recycle, donate, or otherwise ensure that they are not placed in the universal waste stream (The importance of recycling computers, 2003). In fact, Robert Tonetti, senior environmental scientist with the EPA's Office of Solid Waste in Washington, D.C., reports that it is the official policy of the EPA that because obsolete electronics are frequently able to be recycled and reused, such equipment is not classified as "waste" until such time as a decision is made that any such devices are incapable of being reused in any meaningful way (Tonetti, 2007). Besides these efforts, other waste management approaches for CRTs have been found to be appropriate in certain circumstances. For instance, Korenstein (2005) emphasizes that, "Although lead is known to cause human health problems, the likelihood of exposure is considered de minimus when the lead is contained in unbroken CRT glass. It can be assumed then that safe transport of computer monitors from a household to an appropriate recycling facility is possible" (p. 36). While it is reasonable to suggest that not all municipalities will follow the same exact practices, it is also reasonable to suggest that there are adequate approaches in place in many communities across the country that allow the safe transport of e-waste to disposal sites in ways that prevent their being crushed along the way. In this regard, Korenstein concludes that, "Thus, it is clear that CRTs are a high-volume waste and are associated with a nominal risk of exposure when normally handled, making CRT placement in the universal-waste stream appropriate" (p. 36).
Moreover, simply placing electronics in dumps is illegal outright, and pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA or more commonly known as the "Superfund"), there is a growing tendency in a number of states for the original owner downstream liability to be held accountable for the improper disposal of hazardous wastes (The importance of recycling computers, 2003). Across the country, though, laws in various states differ; for example, Massachusetts has banned the disposal of CRTs in landfills or waste-to-energy plants altogether (The importance of recycling computers, 2003). At the federal level, legislative initiatives concerning these issues are also being approach on a state-by-state basis; however the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI), described by these authors as being, "A multi-stakeholder discussion among equipment manufacturers, state and local governments, environmental advocacy groups, and other nongovernmental organizations," has made an effort to develop a set of best practices that will improve manufacturer responsibility in the United States in coming years (The importance of recycling computers, 2003). According to Short (2004), initiatives such as NEPSI are becoming increasingly commonplace across the country, particularly at the state level. In this regard, Short predicted that, "Wide-scale changes in product take-back and recycling could be on the way in the United States. Environmental groups advocate action regarding electronic waste, because it is the nation's fastest growing environmental problem, is known to be toxic, and causes long-term contamination when disposed in landfills" (p. 1217). As a result, a number of states have implemented various public-private initiatives that have demonstrated impressive results to date. For example, Hosansky (2004) reports that, "Rhode Island launched the country's first statewide no-charge residential computer collection in 2001 with impressive success. Results are mind-boggling for a state with a population of slightly more than 1 million. More than 600,000 pounds of residential e-waste has been collected in three years" (p. 21). The state-level initiative being used by Rhode Island may not be appropriate for all states, but the results of this program clearly demonstrate what can be accomplished through a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors. In this regard, Hosansky reports that in Rhode Island, community awareness of the program has helped contribute to its success: "Citizens drop off computers at collection sites throughout the state. State vendors pick them up and recycle the waste. Officials say public service ads are vital to the program's success" (p. 31). In fact, Rhode Island was in the vanguard of states that have enacted electronics and electrical device waste management practices. As Hosansky points out, "The computer collection program is operated by a quasi-public state agency established by the legislature in 1974. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation was established to assist municipalities in developing and operating recycling and waste collection programs" (p. 21).
In some cases, large-volume waste streams in the United States that have satisfied the technical definitions for hazardous waste that have historically been disposed in municipal landfills which are not typically designed to manage and store such wastes (Korenstein, 2005). In an effort to better manage these types of waste products,, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) proposed new streamlined hazardous waste management regulations on February 11, 1993 that are applied to these materials (Standards for Universal Waste Management, 1995), which are known as universal waste (Korenstein, 2005). At the time, the EPA maintains that Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations used for managing hazardous waste would adversely affect collection and recycling initiatives (Korentein, 2005).
The goals of the Universal Waste Rule were two-fold as follows:
1. To encourage recycling and discourage disposal of widely generated hazardous wastes; and,
2. To provide incentives for the collection of the unregulated portions of these waste streams and manage those unregulated positions using the same systems developed for the regulated portion, thereby removing these unregulated portions from municipal waste sites (Standards for Universal Waste Management, 1995).
The State of California subsequently adopted an Emergency Universal Waste Rule (Cal-UWR) (California Environmental Protection Agency Department of Toxic Substances Control, 2003) in early 2000; before this measure was adopted, though, wastes that were not included in the federal UWR in California were required to be managed as fully hazardous waste (Korenstein, 2005). According to this author, "Hazardous waste designation forces the generator (unless exempt) to file for a U.S. EPA identification number, limits storage time, necessitates usage of a registered transporter, and restricts disposal to a permitted hazardous waste facility. These stringent rules can be burdensome and place a heavy financial load on generators of the waste" (Korenstein, 2005, p. 37). Furthermore, these overly restrictive standards fail to encourage the level of appropriate and responsible waste disposal practices that are required of the general public to make recycling programs a success (Korenstein, 2005). Because of the perceived time-consuming and bureaucratic processes that have been used by municipalities in the past, many consumers may elect to try to circumvent legal and environmentally sound disposal practices in favor of simply chunking their…[continue]
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