GAO urges better end-of-life management for IT | Resource Recycling

By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling

The federal government isn’t doing enough to ensure that its electronics are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, according to a report from a government oversight agency.

Although the executive branch of the federal government has made some strides in improving how it handles used electronics, including several promising initiatives launched over the last decade, more needs to be done to address the issue, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. As the largest purchaser of electronics in the world, notes the report, the federal government has the ability to influence how electronics are recycled, reused and disposed of.

“For the five agencies GAO reviewed (The U.S. Departments of Defense, Energy, Education, and Housing and Urban Development and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), data provided on the disposition of electronic products were inconsistent, which hampered GAO’s efforts to accurately assess the extent to which electronic products procured by federal agencies are disposed of in an environmentally sound manner,” read the report.

Citing figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report states that the federal government retires 10,000 computers each week. Agencies have the option of donating electronics to schools, recycling them, exchanging them with other government entities or auctioning them.

The report found that when agencies auction off used electronics, not enough is done to determine if purchasers follow environmentally sound end-of-life practices, such as not exporting them to countries with more relaxed environmental and health standards.

“Other challenges that may impede progress toward improving federal agencies’ management of used electronics include defining key terms such as ‘electronic product’ and ‘environmentally sound practices,’ as each agency uses its own definition of electronic products to report progress in implementing policies for electronics stewardship,” reads the report.

In response to the situation, the GAO recommended that the federal government take actions to track and report what happens to used electronics, specifically those sold at auction.

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