A federal proposal to ban certain e-scrap exports has received varied responses from electronic recycling stakeholders, who’s comments on the matter were publicly published last week. The proposed ban was headed by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, who have been aiming to alter requirements for e-scrap exports since last fall. The stated goal of the proposal is to reduce feedstock for producing counterfeit goods that are imported back to the U.S. Under the regulatory changes set forth by the proposal, untested end-of-life electronic devices would be prohibited from export. Devices that have been tested and are working could be shipped overseas, however would be subjected to new record keeping and tracking.
The BIS has previously pursued similar regulatory proposals such as the Secure E-Waste Export and Recycling Act (SEERA) or House Representative 917, both of which failed to advance out of committee. However, the BIS is hopeful for the proposal. Last December, they wrapped up an inquiry for public comments for the committee and have just released the various responses that the proposal invoked.
One respondent, Jim Maher of Colt, CEO of Colt Refining and Recycling, responded to the proposal by saying he believed the restrictions and reporting changes were “long overdue” and believes the proposal would help tackle several industry issues, such as the ability for overseas buyers to harvest data from unprocessed devices.
“There are companies like Colt that process non-functioning electronics domestically and there would be more that would be created to handle this growing problem,” Maher wrote. “There is a proven business model in place for companies to invest in facilities, equipment and people that can turn this equipment into very high-value raw materials that are then exported to metals smelters around the world.”
Other comments pointed out that given the record-keeping guidelines of the proposal, the industry could get a better picture of the total amount of e-scrap leaving the U.S. as the figure is often hard to pin down due to flexible commodity codes used for export.
On the other hand, many commenters see concern with the rising costs that the regulation could bring about. An unnamed attorney representing Opengear, a tech company that provides networking and data center infrastructure management products, wrote, “[Recycling operators and e-scrap exporters] do not normally need to deal with extensive export controls. Under the proposed regulation, this would change. The exporting companies would need to review everything they export to determine if any of the articles fall within the definition of ‘electronic waste.’”
Opengear’s attorney points out that the costs associated with separating out certain devices and completing additional reporting and tracking duties would “far outweigh whatever small benefits they may achieve.”
Additional concerns from the inquiry highlighted the regulation’s exemption of working devices. One anonymous commenter wrote “A new reporting requirement and definition should take into consideration the quantity and the purpose of the export, not just the type and state of the commodity,” the person wrote. “Exports of limited quantities should be exempt from reporting and recordkeeping requirements if the purpose is only for evaluation/testing.”
Overall, many of the comments seem to reflect one cohesive message: the regulation’s definition of electronic waste is simply too broad and could lead to unintended, but none the less damaging, consequences.