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Lisa P. Jackson

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Promoting Electronics Recycling and New Jobs

Posted: 07/20/11 06:57 PM ET

At the ROUND2 electronics recycling facility in Austin, Texas, American workers dismantle, sort, test and repair a steady stream of discarded printers, computers and other electronics. The millions of pounds of electronic waste that ROUND2 processes each year are kept out of landfills here and abroad, and the valuable materials in them are reused. In addition, ROUND2's e-cycling business is also creating good jobs. The company has put several hundred people to work nationwide, and just last February the Austin facility announced plans to hire 52 more technical staff members.

Seeing the economic and environmental opportunities in e-cycling, I visited ROUND2's Austin campus today, where I stood with Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc., Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, Mark Price, Vice President of Sony Electronics, and several government officials to announce the Obama administration's National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship. To fortify the National Strategy, we also announced a commitment from Dell, Sprint and Sony to use private sector business practices that will strengthen our homegrown e-cycling industry and create jobs for American workers.

Government and industry are working together to tackle an environmental and health issue in a way that supports innovation, cuts costs and creates good jobs. It's an important effort at an important time. Already, the United States generates some 2.5 million tons of electronic waste per year. Not only do those discarded electronics contain potentially dangerous chemicals and pollutants, they also have precious metals, rare earth materials, plastic and glass that can be recovered and recycled, reducing the economic costs and environmental impacts of securing and processing new materials for new products.

It is also critically important that we undertake this National Strategy with the active involvement of the private sector. Dell, which Newsweek ranked as 2010's greenest company in the United States, has been a leader in responsible electronics management. Dell has worked for years to improve e-waste recovery, and also partnered with the EPA on efforts that reduced the amount of lead in their products by more than 19 million pounds. Sprint has already collected more than 25 million discarded mobile phones. Sprint has set an ambitious goal that, by 2017, they will be reusing or recycling nine phones for every 10 they sell. Sony has partnered with EPA since 2004 and collected and recycled almost 3 million pounds of used consumer electronics.

To effectively tackle e-waste, we need to think about everything from how to design more efficient and sustainable technology, to making sure consumers have widespread access to recycling drop off locations and other options for easily donating or recycling used electronics. Private sector involvement is instrumental to ensuring that the process of research, innovation, development and commercialization of a new product is not complete without also focusing on recycling.

Of course, EPA and its federal government partners have a role to play as well. President Obama has called on us -- as the nation's largest consumer of electronics -- to lead by example on electronics stewardship. The National Strategy we are announcing today explains how the federal government will:

  • Promote the development of more efficient and sustainable electronic products;
  • Direct federal agencies to buy, use, reuse and recycle their electronics responsibly;
  • Support recycling options and systems for American consumers; and
  • Strengthen America's role in international electronics stewardship.

The success of ROUND2 is just the beginning of creating jobs by increasing electronics recycling nationwide. The leadership of President Obama on this issue -- combined with the commitments of companies like Dell, Sprint and Sony- - sends a very strong signal about the bright future of the e-cycling industry in this country. Fostering the growth of a market for electronics recycling can help American companies create good jobs in a field that supports cleaner communities today, and a cleaner future tomorrow.

The history of protecting our health and our environment is a history of innovation. Better ideas and new products have helped make almost everything we do cleaner, healthier and more energy-efficient. That history has also shown us that the engines of our economy run best when they run clean.

The National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship is another chapter of that history, in which environmental protection, innovation, and economic growth work hand in hand.