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National Security and Electronic Waste Disposal. Can Recycling Save Lives?

March 19, 2015

Army Tank

Photo: The U.S. Army (flickr)

Could recycling or good electronic waste disposal save more than the environment?

Could it actually save a life?

It turns out that recycling could be more than just environmentally sound—more than just ecologically smart. It could protect the U.S. defense systems and by default the citizens of the United States.

In an article written for National Defense Magazine, three authors suggested that increasing and improving on e-waste recycling programs and domestic recycling centers could do all of those things. Because it could help to lower the impact of counterfeit electronics that are being seen in the US.

It could prevent counterfeit parts from finding their way back to the country from which they were removed. Bad parts are being removed from computers in the U.S and recycled in a more nefarious way than we might imagine. As it happens, our electronic waste is being used to create counterfeit parts that are finding their way back, not only into our country, but into our own national defense systems.

To date, some of the parts have been seen in the United States defense systems that are critical to our well-being. The Senate Armed Services Committee in their Report “Inquiry Into Counterfeit Electronic Parts in the Department of Defense Supply Chain” (pdf) questions how and why those parts are appearing in critical systems.

The answer is that they are being shipped and smuggled to China where they are cleaned in acid baths, labels removed, nominally refurbished with simple cleaning and recoating and then sold to the US again. In 2009 and 2010 alone, more than a million counterfeit electronic parts were seen in items that ranged from submarines to aircraft to thermal weaponry. They were even found in missile systems.

USS Turner Joy

USS Turner Joy Photo: Tjflex2 (flickr)

As you might imagine, that isn’t good news. While we may not want to consider it, the impact of counterfeit parts in critical systems could be nothing short of disastrous. Simple recycling for electronic waste disposal could prevent those parts from being found in places such as US helicopters, and surveillance planes. It’s nearly inconceivable to think that counterfeit parts were slated to go into the newest cargo planes for the United States Air Force when the issue was found and the problem diverted.

As General Patrick O’Reilly stated emphatically “We do not want a $12 million missile defense interceptor’s reliability compromised by a $2 counterfeit part”.

As General Patrick O’Reilly stated emphatically “We do not want a $12 million missile defense interceptor’s reliability compromised by a $2 counterfeit part. Embracing e-waste recycling efforts fully, ramping up the programs that we use in the United States and particularly those to which our governments e-waste are sent, could conceivably be the answer to that problem. It would prevent the smuggling and the refurbishment of parts that have outlived their usefulness and are dangerous when reused.

You knew that e-waste recycling programs were environmentally friendly, but could recycling programs, and good electronic waste disposal save more than the environment?

Could these actually save a life? The answer is undoubtedly and resoundingly “yes.”

You might want to visit:

Counterfeit Chinese Parts Slipping Into U.S. Military Aircraft: Report May 22, 2012

The Surprising U.S. National Security Benefits Of E-Waste Recycling

Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly, USA Director, Missile Defense Agency Before the Senate Armed Services Committee

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