Frequent Questions

Why does export of electronics occur and what is being done internationally to address it?

A large amount of used electronics and materials derived from used electronics is exported from the U.S. to other countries. Export occurs because international markets are essential for the reuse and recycling of electronics. The major markets for reuse (of both whole equipment and components) are outside the U.S., mostly in developing countries. Although we are working hard in the U.S. to maximize reuse domestically, the fact is that the foreseeable demand for used electronics here will continue to be comparatively small compared to foreign demand. The infrastructure for the export of used electronics for reuse is rapidly expanding, and there are many very legitimate enterprises (both for-profit and non-profit) that exist at this time.

EPA recognizes the need to bridge the ?digital divide? in less developed countries, and the export of used electronic products helps to fill that need by providing them to these markets either free (in the case of some non-profits) or at substantially reduced prices. This makes the technology available to many people in less developed countries who simply cannot afford to purchase new electronic products. This advances the global objectives of increased access to information and educational tools, as well as opportunities for economic development.

There is also a strong demand abroad for scrap materials recycled from discarded electronics. These materials are used as raw materials for manufacturing, much of which now occurs outside of the U.S. There are no smelters/refiners in the U.S. that can convert copper and precious metal (gold, silver, palladium) bearing electronics materials into metals that are pure enough for use. Also, the single remaining cathode ray tube (CRT) glass furnace in the U.S. is accepting only a very small amount of post-consumer CRT glass. Thus, export markets are essential to recycling of these materials.

EPA has been very active in coordinating with other countries on the sound management of electronic waste. In the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. was one of the lead countries that assisted in developing recommendations and guidelines for the environmentally sound management of wastes, including electronic waste. Of particular note, EPA led the development of OECD guidelines on the sound reuse and recycling of personal computers.

Although the U.S. is not a party to the Basel Convention, we actively contribute to its technical efforts. We are participating in a Basel Convention partnership effort with industry that is developing guidelines for the safe reuse, recycling, and transboundary movement of used and scrap mobile phones. Previously, the U.S. participated in a technical workshop with many key Asian countries regarding management of electronic waste in that region of the world.

More broadly, EPA takes very seriously its obligations under the OECD and other international agreements, and we continue to fully comply with their provisions. We support the Basel Convention, and are working on draft legislation that would allow the U.S. to ratify and implement the Convention.

For more information, visit our International Waste Activities web site at http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/international/index.htm

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