The 11th annual E-Scrap Conference — held this week in Orlando, Florida — concluded with a debate on the pros and cons of potential national legislation on electronics recycling.
Eric Harris, ISRI director of government and international affairs, argued the bill as currently written would be a burden on processors and impede the growth of the scrap recycling industry. The counterargument was delivered by Neil Peters-Michaud, Cascade Asset Management CEO and a board member for the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling, which is a group of recycling companies collectively lobbying for the passage of the bill. Peters-Michaud argued the potential regulation is necessary to put domestic processors on a level playing field with cheap and environmentally destructive overseas recyclers.
After a failed attempt to pass e-scrap legislation back in 2011, an updated version of the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) was reintroduced to Congress in July, submitted by Rep. Gene Greene (D – Texas) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D – California), co-sponsored by one additional Democrat and three Republicans. House Resolution 2791 would ban the U.S. from sending used electronics to developing countries unless they were in working condition. Both Greene and Thompson submitted the original RERA bill and have been long standing supporters of increased recycling regulations in the U.S.
According to Peters-Michaud, this time around the bill has gained traction in Congress, where RERA now benefits from bi-partisan support and through CAER, which now boasts 115 members, some of whom are also members of ISRI. “Legislators are starting to get these issues,” Peters-Michaud said.
Harris, however, said his group’s conversations with decision makers on Capitol Hill had pointed to a different conclusion: that support for RERA is actually slipping in Washington. The notion that RERA is not politically achievable was one Harris returned to throughout his presentation. “It’s not ISRI that moves bills through committee and passes them; it’s members of Congress,” Harris said. “When they’ve looked at the issue [of exporting scrap electronics], they said, ‘What’s the problem?'”
Harris cited research from the last several years that has indicated the amount of untested material heading toward developing countries is not as much as previously believed. Backers of an export ban have often used a 2002 study from the Basel Action Network that claimed 80 percent of the nation’s e-scrap was headed overseas. Harris said data from a recent U.S. International Trade Commission Report showed that only around 17 percent of the nation’s used electronics are currently exported and of that, the majority was tested and in working condition. RERA, he concluded, is based on a false premise.
But Peters-Michaud countered with numbers of his own, citing independent research that showed the law would create roughly 42,000 domestic jobs as more used electronics stayed within U.S. borders.
The Cascade Asset Management leader also discussed his first-hand experience working in Ethiopia, where increasing amounts of e-scrap produced within the African nation are backing up and where imports of foreign material just add to the problem. He said RERA and other efforts can help that country and others like it focus on their own issues. “Let’s work with them to transfer the technology,” he said, “and not the trash.”