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E-scrap bill divides recycling groups

Keywords: Tags  electronic waste, recycling, legislation, U.S. Congress, debate, Coalition for American Electronic Recycling, (CAER), Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries ISRI

NEW YORK — Two industry associations once again find themselves at odds over legislation that aims to ban exports of toxic electronic scrap which instead would have to be recycled within United States borders.

The dispute surfaced after the bill was introduced July 25 by Reps. Mike Thompson (D., Calif.) and Gene Green (D., Texas), who said the legislation promotes the U.S. recycling industry "by prohibiting the exportation of some electronics whose improper disposal may create environmental, health or national security risks."

The Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER), an industry association that supports the legislation, was quick to tout bipartisan support for the bill, which is co-sponsored by Republicans Mike Coffman (R, Colo.), Steve Stivers (R, Ohio) and Mike McCaul (R, Texas), and Democrats Green, Thompson and Louise Slaughter (D, N.Y.).

Trade in tested, working electronics will remain unrestricted and is expected to grow, according to CAER.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), which has opposed a ban on exports at every stage, called on Congress to "reject attempts to restrict legitimate trade of used electronic products ... with U.S. trade partners."

Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, praised the bill’s aims but called it "fatally flawed."

"This bill will do nothing to end irresponsible recycling, and further, will limit any opportunity to promote environmentally sound electronics recycling standards in other countries by perpetuating the outdated approach of identifying environmental risk based simply on geographic location rather than responsible operating practices," she said.

According to a recent CAER study, restrictions on e-waste exports could create up to 42,000 new jobs with a total payroll of more than $1 billion.

CAER claims that a large percentage of electronic scrap containing high concentrations of toxic materials like lead and cadmium is "exported to developing countries where it is dismantled in primitive conditions without environmental protections and worker safeguards."

But according to ISRI, the legislation relies "upon the false premise that up to 80 percent of (used electronics products) collected in the U.S. are exported and dumped in non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries located outside the E.U.—a statistic unchanged and put forward by CAER and the Basel Action Network repeatedly before the earliest versions of (the bill) were introduced back in 2009."

ISRI, however, said the U.S. International Trade Commission recently "found that only 5.1 percent of all (used electronics products) collected each year in the U.S. are currently at risk for improper recycling and disposal."

ISRI’s chief economist Joe Pickard claimed that the bill will actually reduce domestic competition and lead to job losses.

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