ISRI’s Commodity Roundtables Forum is taking take place Sept. 22-24, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago. The annual event attracts processors, brokers, traders, and other recycling professionals from around the world.

Moderator Craig Boswell, president of HOBI International, Inc., and chairman of ISRI’s Electronics Division, starts the electronics session noting how much has changed in electronics recycling. “The lines have blurred between computing devices and traditional industrial items such as automobiles and appliances. These changes will have far-reaching impacts on recycling,” he notes.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a surge in demand for personal electronic devices. U.S. consumer technology revenue in 2021 is expected to surpass 2020 totals by 7% while unit sales for the year will see a 1% decline, according to the NPD Group. That has led microchip makers to ship more product to consumer electronics companies versus carmakers. The latest AlixPartners prediction states global automakers will build 7.7 million fewer vehicles than in 2020 due to the chip crisis. Even as new markets for refurbished goods like cell phones open in developing countries, richer parts of the world are focusing on making “green” products.

Speaker Walter Alcorn, vice president for environmental affairs and industry at the Consumer Technology Association, says the circular economy is possible, but since industry is innovating so quickly—and the materials that are being used in personal electronic devices used change so fast—it will be challenging for recyclers to lock in the most profitable material stream. “The concept is good, but I think it may undershoot what’s ultimately best for the environment,” he says. “Which is to use fewer materials, and certainly for materials that we use, they should certainly be recycled.”

Right to repair is another concern in the electronics space. Panelist Billy Johnson, ISRI’s chief lobbyist, says it’s imperative that recyclers lead the way toward high standards for repair by qualified facilities. “We need to ensure those facilities have those baseline certifications—to ensure you have a facility that isn’t going to harm yourself, harm your neighbors, while making sure that the product that you fix doesn’t harm anybody else—and works,” he states.

“The underlying theme here is change,” Alcorn says. “No matter how things play out on the regulatory side, things are changing. Materials are changing, Products are changing. Business relationships are changing. So, I think fundamental good business practices are probably our best hope.”

The ISRI 2021 Commodity Roundtables Forum concludes Friday, Sept. 24, with the Aluminum Roundtable.

Photo courtesy of ISRI.



Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; and marketing communications.