The U.S. electronics recycling industry has shown tremendous growth over the past 10 years. This maturing segment of the scrap recycling industry provides a boost of approximately $20.6 billion, including exports of $1.45 billion, to the U.S. economy (up from less than $1 billion in 2002) and employs more than 45,000 full time employees (up from 6,000 in 2002).
In 2011, the U.S. electronics recycling industry processed more than 4.4 million tons of used and end-of-life electronics equipment. More than 70 percent of the collected equipment is manufactured into specification grade commodities — including scrap steel, aluminum, copper, lead, circuit boards, plastics, and glass. These valuable commodities are then sold to basic materials manufacturers in the United States and globally as raw material feedstock for new products, such as steel, copper, aluminum, plastic, and glass.
Electronics recyclers repair, refurbish and resell functioning electronics equipment as used products into domestic and international markets. Companies also provide a number of logistical services, like collection, storage and transportation as well as scrubbing hard drives of sensitive personal and commercial data.
The industry is driven by equipment collected from businesses and commercial interests, comprising up to 75 percent of the market on a volume basis. The electronics recycling industry is poised to meet the anticipated increased demand for more used products and specification grade commodities.
Flow of Used Electronic Products (UEPs)
In February 2013, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) released its study on Used Electronic Products: An Examination of U.S. Exports, the most comprehensive report on the collection and export of UEPs that found over 80% of the UEPs collected in the U.S. were recycled, reused or refurbished domestically while only 17% of UEPs were being sent for export. A subsequent report released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Materials Systems Laboratory and the U.S. National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER) in 2013 indicates that more than 90 percent of used electronics collected for recycling within the U.S. remain in the U.S. for processing and are not exported. Taken together, the USITC and MIT/NCER studies provide irrefutable evidence that used electronics products are being reused and recycled in America, not “dumped” into developing countries as proponents of export controls have argued for years.