The U.S. government plans to get tough on contractors that send e-waste to landfills.
Any contractor that purchases electronics through federal funds will be barred from sending the device to landfills, according to a recent statement by government officials.
The mandate has not yet been released to the public, but as the WSJ reports, it will be issued soon and is expected to take effect within 90 days.
Contractors hired by the U.S. government will have to bring disused IT equipment to recyclers that have been certified and approved through federally-recognized sustainability programs.
These regulations will apply to any government contractor firm who purchases or works with equipment bought by federal funds. This would include firms such as AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. In 2011, approximately 140,000 IT contracts were issued by the U.S. government, worth at least $11 billion.
The contractor mandate is one of the latest attempts by the Obama administration to try and curb the increasing stream of electronic waste that ends up in either in ever-shrinking landfills or developing countries.
Futhermore, the disposal of waste electronics is considered a growing health risk for the general public — as e-waste is laden with toxic material including mercury and lead. The EPA estimates that in 2009, 2.37 million tonnes of e-waste was created, and yet only 25 percent was recycled — the rest discarded and placed in landfills across the world.
Oladele Ogunseitan, an expert on the issue and chair of public health at the University of California at Irvine, said:
“When the products are thrown in the trash they endanger people through exposure. They contain lead which we’ve known for centuries is a dangerous metal. There is no law that prevents a company from just tossing a product.”
The mandate is expected to be a catalyst for changes throughout the private sector. Recycling practices for government contractors are expected to alter, and the process of disposing electronics could be forced to become more efficient.
As the stream of e-waste is expected to become more defined, it is possible that contractors could pay third parties to scavenge valuable parts — becoming a financial incentive for the new mandate to be adhered to.
Image credit: Alex Proimos