NEW YORK Industry groups remain divided on the results
of a large study examining used electronics products (UEPs)
For years, certain sectors in the industry have claimed that
the United States exports about 80 percent of its used
electronics; others say that number is much lower. A new study
released by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) puts
the number at around 17 percent, consequently triggering a
fresh debate over the studys methodology.
Still, opposing groups have found common ground when it comes
to tackling the exports of certain materials.
U.S. entities reported $20.6 billion in total sales of UEPs in
2011, which included exports of $1.45 billion, or 7 percent of
total sales, according to the ITC study, which was based on a
2012 survey of 5,200 market participants.
The study also provided other data points on an industry short
on real figures and statistics.
Refurbished electronics accounted for the majority of U.S.
domestic sales in 2011 at $15 billion, with domestic sales of
disassembled or recycled electronics coming in at $4.3 billion,
according to the study.
Exports accounted for $1 billion in sales of repaired and
refurbished products, as well as $439 million of sales of
recycled UEPs in 2011, according to the ITC report. About 25
percent of the industry is directly engaged in exporting, while
41 percent of all UEP handlers reported that they were
reasonably certain some portion of their
electronics output was later exported by another organization.
The Basel Action Network (BAN), an environmental advocacy
group, and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an industry
organization, are among those that have long claimed that the
United States exports the majority of its used electronics and
seek a ban on exports. Both groups slammed the study.
Meanwhile, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)
has fought efforts to ban exports of used electronics and has
offered its support of the study.
Simply stated, the report negates the unsubstantiated
claims over the past 10 to 15 years that 80 percent of UEPs
collected in the U.S. were being dumped on developing nations
and causing toxic waste pits, ISRI president Robin Wiener
said in a statement released March 22.
According to ISRI, the ITC report states there have been
significant positive changes in both U.S. and foreign practices
involving electronics recycling and exportsincluding new
recycling technologies, improved recovery efforts, adoption of
third-party certification/audit systems, increased foreign
smelting capacity, new regulations and greater
enforcementsince initial non-governmental organization
(NGO) reports on the informal sector were released more than 10
BAN executive director Jim Puckett questioned the studys
This study was a stitch up from the United States Trade
Representatives Office from the beginning. All
stakeholders except ISRI told them directly that surveying the
perpetrators was not a good way to get reliable information
about the ugly global dumping of e-waste, he told
Most businesses are not going to admit they violate
international law in waste trafficking. To expect such is a
joke, he said. What the government needed to do is
what BAN has done: Get out of the office and track containers
and devices and monitor foreign ports and learn the ugly fate
of this trade. But for free-trade zealots, ignorance is
The Electronics TakeBack Coalition said the report doesnt
provide the kind of clear data that the industry needs about
The study completely fails to answer how much of our
total e-waste gets exported to developing countries and
fails to clarify whether it supports the notion that much
of the used electronics that get to recyclers actually gets
exported to developing countries, the coalition said in a
Still, both ISRI and the TakeBack Coalition have come out in
support for focusing on export material that is making its way
into unsafe recycling practices in other countries.
The report shows that total reported exports were 757,721 tons
of used products in 2011, the TakeBack Coalition said in its
statement. Of that figure, more than half of the volume
... (is) destined for potentially problematic export
uses, it added, calling for federal legislation.
ISRI said the report has helped quantify the sliver
of U.S. exports that are currently at risk for improper
recycling and disposal: recycling or disassembly of non-working
and untested UEPs; products sent for final disposal; and
Although these amounts are now proven to be nominal,
there are valid concerns about the ultimate destination for
these materials. ... ISRI strongly believes that recycling, no
matter where it is carried out, must be done at a facility that
is capable of performing such activities in a manner that is
protective of both human health and the environment, the