Last week it was announced that federal legislators reintroduced legislation banning exports of untested, non-working electronics. The bill, the Secure E-waste Export and Recycling Act (SEERA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by legislators in California and New York as H.R. 3559. Essentially, the bill would allow exports of tested and functional devices, which includes some materials recovered from e-scrap through processing operations, such as commodities destined for smelters. Additionally, it would also continue to allow the export of recalled devices that are sent to foreign markets to be repaired. E-Scrap News, a Resource Recycling, Inc. publication, reports that this is “a move that could significantly alter how many e-scrap companies handle materials.”
The legislation includes exemptions for materials considered low risk because they are unlikely to be used by counterfeiters, including:
- Tested, working used electronics
- E-scrap that has been shredded or de-manufactured, which may be exported for use as feedstock for smelters and other recycling processes
- Recalled electronics, which may be exported for repairs
According to a press release published by the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER), a group of e-scrap industry stakeholders who support the proposal, any other end-of-life electronic device exports would become illegal under the federal act.
Over the past few years, similar legislation has been introduced in various forms. Under the intention of national security measure, many bills have aimed to restrain exports. Prohibition proponents argue that exportation of untested electronics provides feedstock for microchip counterfeiters, many of who operate in China. This results in counterfeit components that return to the U.S. and essentially “undermine the reliability of technology essential to our national security,” said Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA), one of the bill’s sponsors, int he CAER press release. However, the bill sponsors also described the restriction as soon as a tool to reduce harmful overseas e-scrap processing practices.
“Aside from the national security concerns this bill addresses, SEERA mitigates the damaging effects on the environment caused by China’s unchecked recycling of e-scrap, which contains toxic materials such as lead, PCBs, mercury and more,” Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), the bill’s other sponsors, stated in the release.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) opposed the legislation when it was previously introduced. In an op-ed for E-Scrap News in 2016, ISRI laid out its objections to the notion of a federal ban on e-scrap exports, describing the proposal as “unnecessary legislation.” Back in 2013, similar federal restriction was introduced to Congress but was referred to as the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act. Since then, no iterations of the proposal have gained significant traction in Congress.
The legislation is being introduced not long after other federal decision-makers noted they were exploring the notion of electronics export restrictions. The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) last fall released a proposal that was heavily influenced by previous versions of the SEERA legislation. After publishing the proposal for public comment, regulators received feedback from across the e-scrap industry.
Several processors expressed strong support for the export restriction, stating that only unscrupulous recycling operations would have their businesses significantly hurt. Opponents to the BIS proposal said the move had potential to raise costs for e-scrap companies. They also warned the move could cut off the flow of untested – but repairable – electronics to developing countries, where the devices can serve as affordable pathways to connect more people to the digital world.