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Highlights

Advances in technology have led to rapidly increasing sales of new electronic devices. With this increase comes the dilemma of managing these products at the end of their useful lives. Some research suggests that the disposal of used electronics could cause a number of environmental problems. Research also suggests that such problems are often exacerbated by the export of used electronics to countries without protective environmental regulations. Given that millions of used electronics become obsolete each year with only a fraction of them being recycled, GAO was asked to (1) summarize information on the volumes of, and problems associated with, used electronics; (2) examine the factors affecting their recycling and reuse; and (3) examine federal efforts to encourage recycling and reuse of these products.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency 1. Given the numerous and varying legislative proposals for nationwide financing systems, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Offices of Solid Waste and Pollution Prevention and Toxics to bring its expertise to bear on the issue by drafting a legislative proposal including, but not limited to, recommendations for a consistent, nationwide financing system that addresses the barriers to recycling and reuse.
Closed - Not Implemented
The agency has not taken action to address this recommendation.
Environmental Protection Agency 2. As EPA finalizes its proposed rule regarding cathode ray tubes (CRT), the Administrator of EPA should ensure that the final rule reflects the concerns of numerous commenters that it will not constrict EPA's regulatory authority to oversee the exportation of CRT televisions and monitors (many of which exhibit the traits of hazardous wastes currently regulated by EPA) to countries that do not have the environmental protections in place to ensure their safe disassembly.
Closed - Implemented
In our November 2005 report, "Electronic Waste: Strengthening the Role of the Federal Government in Encouraging Recycling and Reuse," we found that there were few legal safeguards to ensure that non-working whole cathode ray tube televisions and computer monitors are managed responsibly once exported overseas. Accordingly, we recommended that EPA ensure that a proposed rule regarding cathode ray tubes does not constrict EPA's regulatory authority to oversee the export of cathode ray tube televisions and computer monitors to countries that do not have the environmental protections in place to ensure their safe disassembly. In July 2006, EPA released the final rule regarding the management of cathode ray tubes, which requires exporters of cathode ray tubes for recycling to comply with the notice and consent requirements similar to those for the export of hazardous waste. According to the EPA official who headed this rule-making effort, GAO's recommendation provided additional leverage for EPA to maintain the more stringent cathode ray tube export requirements during review by the Office of Management and Budget.
Environmental Protection Agency 3. In addition, to establish a national recycling infrastructure and encourage environmentally preferable management of used electronics throughout their life-cycle, the Administrator of EPA should direct the Office of Solid Waste to take necessary action (in collaboration with the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive) to require federal agencies to participate in the Federal Electronics Challenge and to procure electronic products that meet or exceed the minimum performance criteria set by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool.
Closed - Implemented
In our November 2005 report entitled, "Electronic Waste: Strengthening the Role of the Federal Government in Encouraging Recycling and Reuse," we found that EPA's and the Federal Environmental Executive's Federal Electronics Challenge (FEC) was a promising voluntary program that encouraged environmentally preferable management of used electronics. However, federal agency and facility participation in the FEC was limited. Accordingly, we recommended that EPA--in collaboration with the Federal Environmental Executive--take action to strengthen participation in the Federal Electronics Challenge (FEC). In February 2006, EPA and the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive expanded outreach to non-participating federal agencies by organizing a symposium on the FEC for federal procurement officials, at which GAO was asked to present our findings and recommendation for strengthening the program. Since our report, federal facility participation has increased from 61 to 113 facilities, representing 20 percent of the federal workforce. According to the head of the Federal Electronics Challenge, GAO's recommendation was a "huge" reason for the increase in participation.

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