A recent study by the U.S. Trade Commission on e-waste disposal and exportation, a sensitive topic in the e-scrap industry, provided some thought-provoking data.

The study involved surveying 5,200 refurbishers, recycling companies, brokers, information technology asset managers and others that were legally required to respond regarding their exporting activities. HOBI International Inc participated in the survey.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of used electronics are sold domestically. In fact, the survey found that of the total U.S. sales of $20.6 billion in 2011, only $1.45 billion, which is less than 10%, contributed to exporting.

“70 percent of exports, by value, were tested and working products sent for reuse,” as opposed to e-waste that could cause potential harm if not recycled and disposed of properly.

The survey and report stemmed off of the Obama administration’s National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, which sought to efficiently manage the massive amounts of used IT equipment generated by the federal government, while giving support to initiatives for recycling end-of-life electronics. Requested specifically by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the study was conducted to gather more data on the flow of used electronics.

The recently conducted survey asked companies, including HOBI International, what they were doing with their used IT equipment.

Here’s what USITC researches found:

· U.S. enterprises reported $20.6 billion in total sales of used electronics in 2011, with $19.2 billion in domestic sales and $1.45 billion in exports. The study concluded that selling functioning products suitable for reuse is more lucrative than selling scrap components.
· Over half of exports went to countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which are generally more economically developed.
· The top five destinations for U.S. exports of e-scrap in 2011 were Mexico, India, Hong Kong, China and South Korea, accounting for 74 percent of exports.
· In 2011, the U.S. exported 757,721 tons of e-scrap.
· By weight, the largest end use of exported used electronics was “materials processing,” with 323,772 tons of material sent to other countries for sorting, smelting, or refining. This category made up 43 percent of all end uses.
· Survey respondents were unable to account for the final destination of 18 percent (by weight) of U.S. exports of used electronics.
· The study concluded that laws in 25 states regulating the disposal of used electronics reduced exports. It found the same for certification programs.
· About one quarter of the e-scrap industry is directly engaged in exporting, and 27 percent of non-exporters are reasonably certain that at least some of their output is later exported by another organization.
· Non-exporters were much more likely to receive e-scrap from manufacturers or public collection events. Conversely, 65 percent of e-scrap from commercial collections and acquisitions (and also the most significant source in terms of volume) was collected by companies that exported.

Congress introduced legislation known as the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) last session, which would prevent many used electronics from being shipped to developing countries unless they had been refurbished and tested for functionality.

Supporter of RERA and CEO of Cascade Asset Management says “while the study concludes that the majority of e-scrap is being processed domestically, it still highlights that there are large quantities of material being sent to the developing world that could be improperly handled. Passage of RERA, he says, would address this problem.”

Click here to read more about the federal e-scrap report.