Industry leaders testify at U.S. ITC electronics reuse hearing

Representatives from across different segments of the U.S. and international electronics recycling and reuse industry testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington May 15.

Early next year, the U.S. International Trade Commission hopes to produce a definitive, unbiased report on how much electronics recyclers are exporting to foreign markets for reuse and recycling.

The U.S. ITC is a bi-partisan, independent federal commission, created in the 1916, which operates in part as a think tank for Congress and the U.S. Trade Representative on trade-related issues. The major operations of the ITC include conducting anti-dumping investigations, studying performance and global competitiveness of U.S. industries and the impact changes in trade policy might have, trade information services and trade policy support. The office plays no role in the development of trade policy and makes no recommendations on policy, only studies the impact policies have or might have for the federal government.

The U.S. ITC is seeking information on:

-the type, volume and value of, and foreign markets of significance for, exports of used U.S. electronic products.

– the forms and activities, with respect to used electronic products, enterprises receiving U.S> exporters shipments; most common end uses of exports in the foreign market; and the extent of cross-border, intra-firm shipments by U.S. exporters;

– the characteristics of used electronic products exported from the U.S. including product condition, composition of shipments and the extent to which exports are processed before export; and

– the forms, activities and characteristics of U.S. exporting enterprises.

If possible, the U.S. ITC is also trying to determine volumes of used electronic products from U.S. companies that are sold for export, sold to U.S. firms, processed by exporting companies and disposed of by exporters.

To see the charge given the U.S. ITC, click Here: http://www.usitc.gov/research_and_analysis/ongoing/request_letter_332-528.pdf

One thing Laura Bloodgood of the U.S. ITC says researchers have observed is a dichotomy in the industry between those who think exports should be encouraged and those who do not.

“At the ITC, we’ve always been geared towards the idea that exporting, international trade is good,” Bloodgood says. However, in the electronics recycling industry, “It does seem to us that people who do want to repair computers, and do want to refurbish them for resale, are very strongly communicating the idea that there are lots of good reasons to export. More than one person has told us U.S. electronics and access to used phones and computers contributed to the Arab Spring.”

For a full list of testimony at the hearing, click HERE.

During the May 15 hearing, Joseph Pickard of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries testified on the global nature of scrap trade and how electronic scrap fit into that picture.
“The demand for scrap as feedstock by industrial consumers and manufacturers is truly global in nature. In 2011, the U.S. scrap industry exported scrap to more than 160 countries worldwide while generating nearly $40 billion in export sales and positively contributing to our balance of trade in the amount of almost $33 billion. Taken as a whole, scrap exports were among the top five exports by value from the U.S. last year,” he said.

HiTech Assets reported, that reuse comprises 91% of its annual revenue, and that 595,000 pounds of electronics were exported in 2011.

The top market for its exports was China, which generated 52% of the company’s resale income. Another 28% was generated by Africa and the Middle East, with 9% of the company’s resale income generated from North and South America.

Epperson testified that the company’s electronics sold for reuse are sold in fully working and documented condition.

Willie Cade, of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers, testified that his company has observed electronics deemed ‘unusable’ in the U.S. are still highly useful elsewhere in the globe.

“PCs in the United States are underutilized and well made,” he wrote to the U.S. ITC. According to his company’s internal tracking, sampling more than 15,000 units, “25% of the PCs are used less than 500 hours when they are categorized as “End of Use.”

PCs made for the United States market are known to have significantly higher quality than other markets. This is due principally to the preference given by U.S. buyers to high quality brands.”

Cade also said he felt much of the negative attention on recycling and reuse of electronics overseas is outdated.

“Much progress has been made recently to assure that this equipment is sent for reuse and/or material recovery within formal operations both within and outside the U.S. These formal operations are far more likely to responsibly process these materials notwithstanding  the state of the country’s  economy.  One of a number of factors that has lead me to this conclusion is that there are 202 facilities that are certified to the new R2 or Responsible Recycler Standard as of this writing.  Most of the negative press reports have come from the informal processing of “End of Life” electronics also known as “back yard recyclers.”

Pickard added that exporting used electronics for reuse is ethically sound.

“There is an increasing presence of reuse markets in developing countries, especially Asia, Africa, and South America, where the majority of the population simply cannot afford to purchase the latest available technology. It is both environmentally and socially responsible to help bridge the existing digital divide and continue to export these viable products that make basic technologies and communications available where they would otherwise potentially not be,” he said. “It is critical that the responsible, legitimate trade of commodity grade scrap generated from the recycling of electronics, as well as the trade in functioning, reusable electronic equipment be differentiated from illegal exports to informal recycling sectors.”

He added, “In addition to promoting legitimate international trade, the focus must be to promote responsible recycling globally and concentrate efforts towards enhancing and promoting environmentally capable facilities that will receive and properly handle recycled materials anywhere in the world.”

Witnesses at ITC hearing:

FOR-PROFIT RECYCLERS:

HiTech Assets, Inc., Oklahoma City, Okla., Lane Epperson, President and CEO

Forever Green By Way of Recycling, Inc., Chantilly, Va., Gordon F. Scott, Owner

LifeSpan Technology Recycling, Boston, Ma., Dag Adamson, President

Regency Technologies, Twinsburg, Ohio, Jim Levine, President

Sims Recycling Solutions, Roseville, Ca., Renee St. Denis, Vice President of Business Development

REFURBISHERS/EXPORTERS:

TechSoup Global, San Francisco, Ca., Jim Lynch, Director of GreenTech & Electronics Recycling & Reuse Programs

InterConnection.org, Seattle, Wash., Charles Brennick, Director

American Retroworks, Inc., Middlebury, Vt., Robin Ingenthron, President

PCRR Rebuilders & Recyclers, Chicago, Willie Cade, Owner

iFixit ,  Atascadero, Ca., Kyle Wiens, CEO

GLOBAL COMPANIES, ASSOCIATIONS, AND NGOs:

Umicore USA Inc., Raleigh, N.C., Holly A. Chapell, Director of Governmental Affairs

International Precious Metals Institute, Cheshire, Ct., John Bullock, Chair, Environmental and Regulatory

Affairs Committee

Coalition of American Electronics Recycling, New York City, Wendy Neu, Executive Vice President, Hugo

Neu Corporation

National Center for Electronics Recycling, Parkersburg, W.Va., Jason Linnell, Executive Director

Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc., Washington, D.C., Joseph Pickard, Chief Economist and Director of Commodities

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Clearing up the CRT rules

The proposed changes to rules governing the recycling of Cathode Ray Tubes were a topic of hot conversation in Las Vegas last month.

William Damico, a Region 5 EPA Enforcement Officer, spoke at the recent Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ annual Convention and Expo in Las Vegas, hoping to offer the EPA’s viewpoints on the rule and to clear up any confusion on what the government agency is trying to accomplish by revising its regulations.

The electronics recycling industry is currently operating under a CRT rule passed on July 28, 2006.

“There was a misconception that the rule brought the cathode ray and other monitor tube devices in the realm of regulation of hazordous waste,” Damico said. “Actually, they always were. We weren’t very active in enforcing those rules.”

The rule didn’t clearly address many of the realities of exporting CRTs for recycling, Damico said.. A revision by the EPA in 2011 hopes to clarify the government’s position on management of the materials and how the EPA plans to enforce the regulation.

“CRTs are a limited commodity, not going to be with us forever and it’s possible the market will disappear before amount of CRT disappears,” Mark Murray, Californians Against Waste. “It’s not just about CRTs, it’s about other hazardous materials we can use in this way.”

In order for others to utilize those recyclable items, it’s a must for recyclers to dismantle the product before shipping it out of the United States’ borders, Murray said. He noted his organization is supporting barring the trans-state shipping of non-dismantled CRTs for recycling.

“The recycler won’t get paid unless they’ve demonstrated they’ve dismantled the device or demonstrate sending to an approved dismantler.”

If that isn’t done, some recyclers may just hold on to those items for an infinite amount of time and, if enough stack up enough, they might be on the next episode of A&E’s “Hoarders.”

Leaded glass found in the CRTs must be included in the recycling loop, but the markets for the material are drying up. Prices have declined drastically in recent years, said David Cauchy of Closed Loop Recycling.

“It’s a significant change economically,” Cauchy said. “The market hasn’t adjusted to it, in my opinion. It’s a serious issue, when you talk about the tonnage that’s available and the technologies that are available to recycle it. It’s a serious issue in the e-waste industry.”

Cauchi said the CRTs need to be recycled as a whole and not just end up a fodder for a landfill.

“We feel there should be places where CRTs are processed in their entirety and make a profit at that facility so it could compete with landfills,” he said.

EPA’s proposal to impose additional notification requirements on exporters handling used, intact CRTs intended for re-use raises jurisdictional issues, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.  Despite RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) jurisdiction being limited to materials that have been “discarded,” the proposal intends to expand EPA’s reach to also cover used, functioning CRTs exported for reuse.  The rationale is based on the grounds that the export of such used products might actually be intended for some purpose other than re-use and therefore raising a concern that the CRT’s might be improperly discarded at a future date and place.  This assertion is contrary to US law as RCRA’s jurisdiction does not extend to reusable CRTs, especially functional units, ISRI says.