In another blow to Oregon’s beleaguered recycling sector, the second-largest company processing electronic or “E-waste” here has shut down, after a forced liquidation in bankruptcy court.
ECS Refining had been handling 41 percent of the material collected under the Oregon E Cycles program, which is financed by manufacturers of computers, TVs, monitors and printers under a product stewardship program.
ECS and other E-waste processors break down the TVs, computers and other electronics, removing toxic elements and recycling or reusing metals and other components.
ECS, based in Texas, was liquidated under order of U.S. Bankruptcy Court on July 2, according to E-Scrap News, a publication of Portland-based Resource Recycling Inc. The liquidation was requested by ECS’s largest creditor, SummitBridge National Investments V LLC, according to the trade publication.
Jerry Powell, editor, publisher and owner of Resource Recycling, said the sector is in upheaval.
“As with nearly every electronics recycling processor, ECS relied in part on Asian markets for whole electronics and for parts and materials from dismantled or shredded units,” Powell said. “With China, Vietnam, Thailand and other countries now restricting or eliminating imports of such products, recycling firms in the U.S. face significant market barriers.”
In addition to those new restrictions, China has halted most imports of mixed paper and plastics, crimping efforts to find new uses for those recyclables collected at Oregon curbsides.
In the short-term, the state’s largest processer of E-waste, URT Solutions, will take up the slack caused by ECS’s closure, said Blake Bennett, E-Cycle specialist for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “They’re not expecting a large disruption or anything like that,” he said.
“I don’t think it will cause any major problems to the program,” added Julie Miller, DEQ spokeswoman.
But in the longer-term, the state and two private entities that handle Oregon’s E-waste will need to find a replacement.
ECS is the third large electronics recycling firm to leave the Oregon market in the past two years, and options for finding replacements to break down and process electronics “are very limited,” Powell said. “As a result, we will see rising program costs, which original equipment manufacturers must pay, thus leading to more expensive new electronics for Oregon consumers.”
A majority of U.S. states now have electronics recycling laws, Powell said, and he expects new bills in the coming year to attempt to address the new barriers.
Oregon created the E-Cycle program a decade ago. In 2017, more than 24 million pounds of E-Waste were collected and recycled under the program, Miller said. But the volume of recycled electronics is dropping.
Some of that is believed due to the declining sizes of televisions, Bennett said. Another factor is that many folks have finished clearing out stockpiles of older electronics gathering dust in attics and garages.
This year, the state hopes to collect nearly 22 million pounds of electronics. That still amounts to more than five pounds per person in Oregon.