Date of Award

Spring 2017

Degree

M.S. in Environmental Policy

Advisor

Professor Monique Segarra

Second Reader

Professor Eban Goodstein

Third Reader

Professor Caroline Ramaley

Abstract

Information technology has proliferated over the past two decades, and waste from electronics represents the fastest growing waste stream in the world. The production and disposal of electronics, from cradle to grave, pose critical threats to human health and the environment. The management of electronic, or e-waste, streams poses a particular set of challenges for solid waste management, hazardous waste management, and economic development in the United States. As e-waste accumulates, state governments, municipalities and private landfills are refusing to accept the responsibility for its disposal. To address this problem, the federal and state governments must find a safe and economically feasible way to process e-waste. This thesis analyzes the lessons learned from both the European Union’s e-waste programs and from a set of US e-waste cases. These range from state-led e-waste programs to manufacturer-led and voluntary e-waste programs. Based on this comparative case method, a set of key barriers emerge in the US cases that undermine e-waste management policies: the perception that US manufacturers will recycle electronic products properly, the power of the electronics industry to block policies, the lack of public consumer education about the environmental consequences of e-waste disposal, and the fact that recycling e-waste is more expensive than extracting raw materials. These factors reflect political and socio-economic realities within the US, including the power of the electronics industry, the perceived capacity of municipal solid waste systems, and the salience and the perception of consumers that US federal laws appropriately manage e-waste disposal. Part of the issue is that e-waste falls into regulatory gaps across major waste management federal laws. This thesis argues that state-led e-waste management policies are not adequate because of the lack of cooperation from all e-waste stakeholders from the federal government, state government, electronics industry, third party processors, and consumers.

Access Control

Open Access