For seven years a band of 150 recycling companies has been fighting a war against evil in the electronics recycling industry. It’s a foreign war, but it is one we must win at home in the halls of Congress.
Have you seen those videos on 60 Minutes, and Frontline, where Chinese and Ghanian workers tear apart scrap electronics by hand? They earn a living by dismantling our electronics, slowly poisoning themselves and their local environment with the many toxic materials contained in a typical gadget. These are the fruits of the first evil: unscrupulous processors in the U.S. and other western countries, claiming to be responsible recyclers, but simply exporting e-waste to developing countries without regard for the harm to human health and the environment.
When a hard drive is discovered by one of these itinerant recyclers, it is passed along and subjected to careful examination for confidential data. A social security number is worth $1 on the dark web; credit-card information may get $5-110. And corporate IP addresses or login information can lead to a breach worth millions. This is the second evil: data and identity theft. And scrap electronics is the data mine.
Finally, scrap circuit boards are cooked, sometimes over charcoal fires, to remove the chips. A growing number of these are being sold to counterfeiters who clean and expertly re-label them for sale as new. The Pentagon estimates that 15% of its procurements may contain counterfeit chips of questionable performance and reliability; leading to disastrous results. This is the third evil: our own barbequed electronic components sold back to us as counterfeits, placing our military, critical infrastructure, even medical devices at risk.
The solution is simple common sense: responsibly recycle all electronic scrap in this country. By choking off the supply of scrap feeding the three evils, we strengthen American security against counterfeits and data theft, while also eliminating the injustice of using low wage countries as our dumping ground. And we create American jobs—over 40,000 of them, according to one economic study.
The Coalition of American Electronics Recyclers (CAER) has proposed a bi-partisan bill, introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), that provides for this simple solution at little or no cost to the taxpayer. The Secure E-waste Export and Recycling Act (SEERA) makes the export of untested, non-working e-waste illegal, while allowing exports of tested, working used electronics, and commodity materials from e-waste that has been responsibly processed. Enforcement would be accomplished by adding e-waste to the list of restricted materials under the Export Control Reform Act of 2018.
Everyone giving an old electronic device to a recycler is supporting one side of the battle or the other. Here’s how to avoid giving aid and comfort to these three evils:
- Email or call your congressional representative to voice your support for SEERA—the Secure Electronics Export and Recycling Act. The United States is the only developed country without national e-waste regulation. But the risks are deepening; common sense legislation is more urgent every day.
- Only work with electronics recyclers who guarantee responsible, domestic recycling. Certified e-Stewards partners are the best bet since they are independently audited against exporting e-waste.
About Robert Houghton
Bob has twenty years of experience in the electronics reuse and recycling industry, most recently as co-founder and CEO of Sage Sustainable Electronics. He was President of Redemtech, a supporting founder of the e-Stewards certification program. Bob and Sage co-owner Wendy Neu were the founding members of the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER).
The Coalition for American Electronics Recycling is the voice of the emerging e-waste recycling industry on Capitol Hill. Our industry will play an integral role in the fight against counterfeits by providing secure, domestic e-recycling services for government and businesses. CAER includes more than 150 companies and supporting members operating more than 300 facilities in 37 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.