Characterizing Transboundary Flows of Used Electronics: Summary Report

January 2012

T. Reed Miller, Jeremy Gregory, Huabo Duan, Randolph Kirchain
Materials Systems Laboratory, MIT

Jason Linnell
National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER)

(Read the report.)

Despite growing interest and concern surrounding transboundary movements of used electronics around the world, there is a dearth of data. Although a multitude of different data sources exist, coherent sets of information on used electronics and their movement are lacking because of inherent challenges in obtaining such information. In spite of these challenges, a characterization of the sources, destinations, and quantities of used electronics flows would inform strategic decision-making of numerous stakeholders.

Collaboration between academic and research institutions, industry and non-profit organizations, government agencies, and international organizations can help to address the challenges associated with collecting data on used electronics transboundary movements. A workshop was held on June 21, 2011 at the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC as a first step towards meeting this need. The objective of this workshop was to bring these stakeholders together to assess existing work characterizing transboundary flows of used electronics all over the world and to chart a path forward for collaborative data collection and characterization efforts. The ultimate goal is to bring a scientific and balanced perspective to the issue of transboundary flows of used electronics.

The guiding questions throughout the workshop were: What do we know now? and How do we learn more? Section 2 and 3 of the report begin by defining what we seek to learn about. Section 4 discusses what we know now, while Sections 5 and 6 additional approaches for learning more. Section 7 summarizes the approaches while Section 8 provides an initial assessment of the feasibility of the approaches and offers recommendations for future studies.