WASHINGTON – How the federal government discards half a million worn-out computers and countless other electronic devices every year may help expand the $5 billion electronics recycling industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration are considering new rules for contract recyclers as it starts requiring agencies to dispose of old computers, monitors and other “e-waste.”

The agencies said they will decide next year on which third-party certification it will apply to its electronics recyclers under the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship unveiled this summer.

Green recyclers and traditional scrap haulers are at odds over the certification standards, one of which would ban exporting computer trash along with other restrictions. Both sides agree that the federal agency mandate could transform the industry.

“By some estimates, the federal government goes through 10,000 computers a week,” GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said in an Aug. 9 statement. “Requiring that each of those machines end their useful lives at a certified recycler could mean big business.”

“When the federal government starts requiring something, it trickles down,” agreed Jeremy Farber, founder of Chantilly, Va.-based PC Recycler Inc.

Kenny Gravitt, chief executive officer at Global Environmental Services, an e-waste recycler in Georgetown, Ky., that reclaims copper and aluminum from circuit boards and other components, says the entire U.S. economy would benefit from the export ban.

The E-Stewards program, developed at the nonprofit Basel Action Network, bans exports of e-waste to developing countries and focuses on getting end users to recycle.

A less restricting standard, called Responsible Recycling, or R2, is promoted by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., a trade association. Industry considers R2 more business-friendly because it factors in “business operations, revenue and profits” in addition to a company’s environmental record for certification.

GSA will propose changes to procurement regulations in February, while the EPA will lead the evaluation of the two certification standards.

Complicating the federal drive to regulate e-waste are laws in individual states, including Maine, California and Connecticut, that use varying approaches to requiring electronics makers to collect e-waste from consumers and businesses.

“Some of these states have had these programs three or four years now and are running them somewhat successfully,” PC Recycler’s Farber said. “For some states that have nothing, they’re not going to want to do it either because they’re doing nothing for a reason.”

Complicating the federal drive to regulate e-waste are state laws, including in Maine, that use varying approaches to requiring electronics makers to collect e-waste.