As new technologies are introduced, the decommissioned equipment must be liquidated. Some of this equipment still has resale value, and can be purchased specifically for resale. However, the reality is that most of this equipment has reached “end of life” with the manufacturer, and the costs of transport, cleaning, and testing the equipment is greater than the potential resale value. Electronics recycling has shown tremendous growth over the past 10 years. Hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of workers are active in the sector, figures that have been growing over the years as the use of electronics equipment becomes ubiquitous and generalized. Yet targeted incentives and strategies could further stimulate growth. There is a significant opportunity to increase the recycling rates of used electronics, in particular among the residential/household segment. Meanwhile, electronics recyclers continue to operate in a changing business landscape. Key figures based on a survey include:
Approximately 4.5 million tons of electronics were treated by the recycling industry in the U.S. in 2012. More than 62% comes from PC and IT-related equipment. The survey indicates that almost 70% by weight of the 4.5 million output in tonnage was processed domestically into commodity grade scrap, such as steel, aluminum, copper, precious metals recovered from circuit boards, glass, and plastic. The US geography remains the biggest market for survey respondents’ direct output in both weight and value. 78.66% reported that their output was traded, sold and/or transferred within the U.S.
While residential users accounted for the bulk of electronics purchases, their contribution to electronics recycling input was alarmingly low in 2010. Indeed 74.1% of the total input tonnage associated with the survey respondents’ electronics recycling business originated from businesses and commercial entities.
From an economic perspective, the industry employs at least 30,000 workers. These are workers active in companies that are defined as “recyclers” or in the recycling units of OEMs. In 2012, the total estimated combined revenue for the industry was $5.2 billion. These figures concern only recycling enterprises, not taking into account the contribution of not-for-profit entities, government agencies, etc. By including these entities, the broad electronics recycling impact is much bigger, with employment potentially as high as 45,000. Yet, the industry faces a set of challenges, including the challenge of stimulating the household/residential sector. For the individual recycling companies it is about managing in a tough economic environment in which operating costs are a problem and the competition to secure adequate volumes of used equipment is often tight and competitive. For the industry as a whole, the challenges include regulatory uncertainty and increased demand for companies to obtain third-party certification. For the recyclers upstream customers, whether it is the OEMs or electronics end-users, it is often about downstream accountability.