Increasingly, U.S. consumers are recycling their old electronics to prevent the environmental harm that can come from disposal. Concerns have grown, however, that some U.S. companies are exporting these items to developing countries, where unsafe recycling practices can cause health and environmental problems. Items with cathode-ray tubes (CRT) are particularly harmful because they can contain 4 pounds of lead, a known toxin. To prevent this practice, since January 2007 EPA began regulating the export of CRTs under its CRT rule, which requires companies to notify EPA before exporting CRTs. In this context, GAO examined (1) the fate of exported used electronics, (2) the effectiveness of regulatory controls over the export of these devices, and (3) options to strengthen federal regulation of exported used electronics. Among other things, GAO reviewed waste management surveys in developing countries, monitored e-commerce Web sites, and posed as foreign buyers of broken CRTs.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should identify a timetable for developing and implementing a systematic plan to enforce the CRT rule. This plan should include the basic elements of effective enforcement, such as enforcement targets, monitoring, follow-up of suspected violations, and prosecution.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should direct the heads of appropriate offices to develop options on how the agency could broaden its regulations under existing Resource Conservation and Recovery Act authority to address the export of used electronic devices that might not be classified as hazardous waste by current U.S. regulations but have a high likelihood of threatening human health and the environment when unsafely disassembled, as often occurs overseas. Among the options that should be considered is expanding the scope of the CRT rule to cover other exported used electronics and revising the regulatory definition of hazardous waste.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||The Administrator, EPA, should direct the heads of appropriate offices to cooperate with other federal agencies to improve the tracking of exported used electronics, which could be accomplished by implementing specific harmonized tariff codes for these devices.|
|Environmental Protection Agency||In addition, because determining whether to ratify international treaties is a policy decision that rests with Congress and the President, EPA should submit to Congress a legislative package for ratification of the Basel Convention, so Congress can deliberate whether and to what extent the United States should adopt additional controls over the export of used electronics that may threaten human health and the environment when disassembled overseas.|