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Electronic Waste: Harmful U.S. Exports Flow Virtually Unrestricted Because of Minimal EPA Enforcement and Narrow Regulation

GAO-08-1166T Published: Sep 17, 2008. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2008.
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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 damage health and the environment. Items with cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) are particularly harmful because they contain lead, a known toxin. As a result, in January 2007, EPA began regulating the export of CRTs under a rule requiring companies to notify EPA before exporting CRTs. GAO's August 2008 report 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 Internet buyers of broken CRTs.

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E-wasteElectronic equipmentElectronics recyclingEnvironmental lawEnvironmental monitoringEnvironmental policiesEnvironmental protectionExport regulationExportingFederal regulationsHazardous substancesHealth hazardsInternal controlsInternational trade regulationNoncomplianceRecyclingRestrictive trade practicesRisk managementSafetyWaste disposalWaste managementForeign countriesPolicies and procedures