In June, the Secure E-Waste Export and Recycling Act, H.R. 5579 (SEERA), was introduced in the House of Representatives amid increased concerns regarding counterfeiting in the global electronics industry, particularly with respect to electronics used in the military. The bill was introduced, in part, in response to a 2012 Senate Armed Services Committee report that concluded that counterfeit electronics were showing up in military technology and that they posed a risk to national security and military readiness. The report also stated that “[m]uch of the material used to make counterfeit electronic parts is electronic waste or ‘e-waste’ shipped from the United States and the rest of the world to China.”
To stem the flow of such material from the United States, SEERA would place e-waste exports within the scope of the Export Administration Act of 1979, and it would allow only tested, working electronics, recalled electronics, and so-called “low-risk counterfeit” electronics to be exported. SEERA defines “low-risk counterfeit” electronics as those that have been processed domestically to be rendered unusable for their original purpose and that are exported as feedstock for recycling abroad. SEERA would also require e-waste exporters to register with the Secretary of Commerce and to include in their export filings information regarding the type, volume, and destination of the e-waste to be exported for reuse or recycling. Perhaps most importantly, however, the Act would require exporters to provide the name of the ultimate consignee to which the e-waste is shipped for recycling and “documentation and a declaration that such consignee has the necessary permits, resources, and competence to manage the exempted electronic waste items as reusable products or recyclable feedstock and prevent its release as a counterfeit good or counterfeit military good.”
If enacted, SEERA would significantly enhance the relatively modest export controls currently governing the export of e-waste from the United States. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), for example, EPA specifically regulates only the export of used electronic products containing cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which were used in televisions and computer monitors before the advent of flat screen technology. CRTs contain lead and may present significant environmental and human health risks if not handled properly. Because of the broad exemption for recycling under RCRA, however, many other e-wastes are not regulated as hazardous wastes, and thus they may be exported with little obligation for exporters to ensure that such wastes are handled responsibly once they leave the United States. In addition to stemming the flow of counterfeit electronics into the United States, then, SEERA may also reduce the potential environmental and human health risks posed by e-waste exports that would otherwise go unregulated under RCRA.