More than a dozen speakers appeared in front of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) last week to testify on the exporting of used electronics. Those testifying included representatives from Sims Recycling Solutions, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). The meeting was part of the ITC’s investigation into the electronic waste export market as a result of the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship ordered by President Obama in 2011.
One of the main topics for discussion was the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act. If passed, this bill would ban the export of electronics to foreign countries for recycling or disposal. Groups such as the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling and Sims Recycling Solutions support the act because it increases environmental and public health and because recycling this waste locally will bring jobs to the U.S. and boost the economy, while groups such as ISRI oppose the legislation and feel that imposing restrictions on the export violates World Trade Organization (WTO) standards.
Current R2 standards require that all electronic recyclers assure that more toxic material streams are managed safely and responsibly by downstream vendors, from the first stage in the recycling process to the final. They prohibit e-recyclers and downstream vendors from exporting the material to countries that have laws banning the acceptance. The regulations were set up to oversee the areas of environmental and public health, worker health and safety, data and facility security and the recycling process and chain of custody as a whole. The BAN has expanded on these regulations with their e-Stewards program in order to be more rigorous with electronics recycling and electronics recycling facilities requirements. The e-Stewards standards prohibit the export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries, the use of prison labor for managing hazardous waste and sensitive data, and the dumping of hazardous materials in municipal landfills. BAN recently announced that in an effort to make things as cost-effective as possible for e-recyclers, they will be incorporating all of the R2 standards into the e-Stewards certification process.
Many groups support the proposed ban because when most of these old electronics are shipped to third world countries where they are disposed of improperly or landfilled. Most electronics contain toxic materials that can cause environmental problems if not discarded of properly. Recycling, rather than disposing of e-waste is significant because of the valuable material that can be recovered from used electronics, reducing the need to mine into the earth for new raw materials.
Another reason that many groups support the ban is because of the increase in jobs local e-waste recycling facilities will provide. “The second reason that we strongly favor the restriction of e-scrap is that by dismantling the equipment to its commodity level… you can actually create numerous jobs in most [inner] cities and counties in the U.S.,” said Gordon Scott, facility manager at Forever Green Recycle Inc., according to a Waste & Recycling News report.
When electronics show up at an e-waste recycling facility, they are processed down to the basic commodities on site. As the first step in the e-cycling process, most items are manually dismantled. Those that can’t be efficiently dismantled manually are put through a shredder so that the pieces of whole e-scrap and dismantled parts are taken down to scraps less than two inches in diameter. Pieces are then separated through a series of devices, traveling via conveyor belts. Once the devices have been broken down to their various metals and other elements, they are ready to be reprocessed and recycled into new products.
There are a variety of stores and drop-off sites, such as Best Buy, Goodwill and Staples, across the country that will collect unused electronics for free to ensure that they are recycled and disposed of properly.