Remarks by AIT Director Christopher J. Marut USEPA-EPAT Workshop on Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment
Date: 10/15/2012 (As Prepared for Delivery)
AIT Official Text #: OT-1211E
Minister Shen, Friends from the U.S. EPA and EPA Taiwan, Distinguished experts and guests from around the world,
Welcome to the 2012 Workshop on Management of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment.
Modern electronics have improved our lives in countless ways. Electronic products have flourished as consumer goods and as investment goods. They entertain us. They have made us more productive at work. They bring us closer to our friends and family. They have increased the efficiency of our factories. They enable scientific collaboration that spans the globe. Moreover, producing and distributing electronic products has been a significant contributor to employment in our respective manufacturing and service sectors.
On the other hand, this advancement in our material comforts and industrial productivity has also produced a serious challenge to the environment and to human health. Dealing with the proper disposal of electronic products, so-called “e-waste,” is at the heart of the major environmental and health hazards that we are here to discuss today.
What happens to our electronics goods after we are finished with them? Unfortunately, many of these discarded products end up in developing countries around the world where children, ignorant of the dangers of exposure to highly toxic chemicals present in these waste products, unwittingly risk their health in order to generate income by stripping valuable metals out of discarded circuit boards and other components.
This is a problem that particularly affects the poor. While the developed world burns through consumer electronics and electrical equipment at a breakneck pace, some would find it convenient to hand this problem off to less developed countries, instead of ensuring that the material is disposed of properly. Like Taiwan, we have laws in the United States banning the export of e-waste to other countries. Nevertheless, every year thousands of shipping containers full of this toxic material are illegally smuggled out of the United States to these digital dumps in the developing world.
Properly disposing of e-waste is a complex challenge, but Taiwan has done extremely well in addressing these complexities. Through its Recycling Management Fund, EPAT has made it profitable for companies to participate in the stewardship of this toxic material. As a result, private entrepreneurs are getting involved in every step of the recycling process for a variety of e-waste products, from initial collection to final processing.
E-waste is just one example of Taiwan’s environmental leadership. In recent months, Taiwan has hosted a number of international workshops and symposiums that included highly technical, valuable discussions on issues such as environmental information, mercury monitoring, and greenhouse gas reduction, and later this month the Environmental Protection Administration here will host an important international conference on site remediation. Once a student of U.S. environmental protection techniques, Taiwan has now become a valuable partner in regional capacity building. U.S.-Taiwan cooperation on environmental protection is a centerpiece of our relationship.
I have served at AIT in the late 1980s. Returning in 2012, it is clear to me that Taiwan’s air is less polluted, and its rivers and lakes are cleaner. The EPA has also made much progress in cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater sites. After two decades of working together on environmental protection, it is very gratifying that e-waste is now a part of our cooperation.
During the next few days you will be hearing from some of the world’s leading experts on e-waste management. I challenge you to make this conference count. We need to get this right. We need to ensure that that electronics and electrical equipment can be properly, and hopefully profitably, disposed of within our own economies.
Thank you and I wish you all success in your discussions today.