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E-Waste Challenge: Q&A with EPA

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The Inspiration phase in our E-Waste Challenge is off to a great start, with folks around the world adding their insights, stories and questions for us to ponder together. For many of us participating in this challenge, the topic of e-waste is new and unexplored. To help uncover some of the story behind e-waste, we caught up with one of our challenge partners, William Sonntag, from the  Office of International & Tribal Affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
 
For folks who might not know, what is the EPA?
 
The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment. EPA's purpose is to ensure that:
  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies;
  • all parts of society -- communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments -- have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive; and
  • the United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.
 
Why is e-waste an issue that matters to all of us?
 
From computers and cell phones, to portable communication and music devices – these technologies have become critical to our way of life and to our growing economy. With these technologies, however, comes the increasing challenge of protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects associated with the unsafe handling and disposal of these products. Meeting this challenge will require a new strategy for electronics stewardship – one that is innovative, flexible, and pragmatic – that allows all of us to manage the electronics we use today more sustainably, and simultaneously promotes the new and innovative technologies of the future.
 
Brokers – companies that move e-waste to processing centers around the world – can play a huge role in managing e-waste safely and sustainably. How can our community's ideas during Concepting help address the role of brokers in the e-waste supply chain?
 
Brokers play a major role in collecting e-waste from recyclers, especially because they create the volume necessary to process it. A certain number of brokers collect materials to export to both developed and developing countries, but it is unknown exactly how much of this e-waste is managed properly in developing countries where unsafe recycling practices are causing harm to human health and the environment. 
 
When it's time for Concepting, let's think about how we might design a business model for brokers, for example, that creates a profitable, sustainable way to manage these discarded electronics safely. And how can we build in the kind of transparency that keeps everyone informed about the ultimate fate of these discarded electronics?
 
What excites you most about this OpenIDEO challenge?
 
The opportunity to innovate and identify new solutions is really important and exciting. Using new global tools like OpenIDEO can help us bring out the best ideas that could really lead to some useful solutions. Plus, now maybe my wife and I can responsibly get rid of that basket of cables, chargers and various old devices we have in our home office!
 
Thanks for your sharing your thoughts with us Bill! 
 
Ready to share your own insights and stories with us? Head over to the Inspiration phase to join in.
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E-waste Challenge

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