Electronics Recycling is a vibrant industry

In 2011, The International Data Corporation, commissioned by ISRI, produced a comprehensive study on electronics recycling in the U.S., surveying a cross-section of the industry in its 23-page report.

What the study found was remarkable- Of the 3.5 million tons being collected and recycled in America, 70 percent by weight is processed in the United States and sold at home or the global marketplace as commodity grade scrap, such as steel, aluminum, copper, precious metals recovered from circuit boards, glass and plastics.

They also found a  vibrant, industry, that had grown tremendously over the past decade.  IDC identified and surveyed  a statistically valid sampling of the industry  to begin compiling data. The IDC study found:

–          85 percent of the electronics recyclers surveyed were small businesses, with 100 employees or fewer.

–          58.7 percent of all electronics recycling businesses have been in operation for less than 10 years.

–          The electronics recycling industry contributes $5.2 billion to the U.S. economy and employs 30,000-45,000 full-time workers.

Joe Clayton, of Synergy Recycling, sees several tons of recyclable electronics come in through his plants in Madison, N.C., and Portsmouth, Va., each month. Clayton is Chair of ISRI’s Electronics Division, sits on the board of directors and is on ISRI’s Leadership Committee. What leaves his factory is commodity-grade material, ready for manufacture into new products, he says.

“What leaves our doors is [specification grade] steel, aluminum, circuit boards, copper, glass, plastic and batteries. None of it goes to a landfill,” he says.

Confusion exists, he says, on the part of the American public when discussing electronics recycling – there is a lot of disinformation and misinformation as to exactly what happens to recycled electronics. People often think that materials are handled in improper and unsafe manners, that the material is being dumped somewhere rather than recycled or that it passes through numerous brokers, dealers, traders and other third parties before it is eventually recycled.

“The companies that I work with all properly handle the materials we send them,” says Clayton. “They’re all certified companies.”

Copper goes to a wire chopper or smelter, he says, and aluminum, steel and circuit boards all go to facilities that directly use those materials for recycling. There aren’t intermediate brokers and traders, for the most part, between the shredding facility and the commodity user, with the exception of CRT glass. CRT glass is a challenging material to handle in any circumstance, he points out, and markets for the material are shrinking.

“But in any case, there is at the most only one person between our company and the end user,” Clayton says.

Companies such as Clayton’s are expected to grow – the American appetite for new electronics and gadgets is ever-increasing, and the industry isn’t capturing all of the electronics waste stream as it is – IDC estimated that the industry capture 3.5 million of the 6 million tons of electronics available for recycling in America in 2010, upwards of 3 million tons is still going to landfills, in line with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimate of the amount of residential and household equipment still being sent to subtitle D (non-hazardous) landfills.

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