BY CHRIS GILLIS |TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2018. Photo:Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com.
The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has proposed regulations that would strengthen U.S. government oversight of discarded electronic waste exports due to national security concerns.
The agency’s proposed rule could restrict certain electronic waste exports altogether, requiring those items to be disposed of domestically.
Permissible electronic waste exports under the proposed rule would be subject to a new license exception or other reporting requirements, as well as new recordkeeping and tracking requirements, BIS said.
BIS’ proposed definition for electronic waste covers a broad range of products, including discarded desktop and mobile computers, data center equipment, televisions, digital imaging devices, consumer electronics and GPS systems.
“Electronic waste that would be exempted from the prohibition on export could include consumer appliances that have electronic features, electronic parts of a motor vehicle, tested working used electronics and recalled electronics,” BIS said.
The exemption also could include refurbished items or items exported for their designed purpose. BIS said it also would exempt from the prohibition unusable electronic components that are “exported as feedstock, with no additional mechanical or hand separation required, in a reclamation process to render the electronic components or items recycled consistent with the laws of the foreign country performing the reclamation process.”
BIS proposed to track these exempt exports through a new license exception in the Export Administration Regulations and by including a new data element in the federal government’s Automated Export System (AES).
The Census Bureau proposed the introduction of a similar AES data element in March 2016, but withdrew the proposal a year later due to public concerns. “BIS is nevertheless considering reintroducing an electronic waste indicator in AES as an alternate means to track the export of electronic waste that qualifies for an exemption from the prohibition,” the agency said.
Public comments related to the proposed rule are due to BIS by Dec. 24.
In recent decades, electronic waste exports, which are rich in toxic materials, have become a significant environmental and health problem in developing countries. For years, industrialized countries have exported their discarded electronics to overseas third parties that use local labor to pick through the components for recyclable metals.
According to the Basel Action Network, which tracks electronic waste, between 22 million and 55 million tons of used computers, TVs, air conditioners, mobile phones, refrigerators, light bulbs and other electronics are generated annually worldwide. In 1989, the United Nations established the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, which requires all countries to first obtain prior informed consent from a receiving country before exporting hazardous waste. The United States and Europe often are identified as the largest exporters of electronic waste to developing countries.
In the U.S., a number of recent congressional studies and actions, including the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Inquiry into Counterfeit Electronic Parts in the Department of Defense Supply Chain, as well as the Secure E-Waste Export and Recycling Act (H.R. 917), have raised national security concerns over counterfeit goods with components from the electronic waste stream entering military and civilian electronics supply chains.
“Today, black market traders use electronic scrap to harvest and fraudulently remarket substandard chips and components which threaten our national security. The global environment too is damaged from the open burning of e-wastes abroad. Meanwhile our own legitimate recyclers at home are forced to compete with these polluting operators, costing us thousands of jobs in the circular economy," explained Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network. "Any form of legislation that will catch up with the rest of the world and begin to regulate the indiscriminate global dumping of e-waste is long overdue.”