E-WASTE is currently exported to other countries for processing. This poses risks not just for the environment in those places, but in fact contributes to counterfeiting operations.
On 8 November, Thomas Sharpe, vice president of SMT Corporation, testified before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, and described how counterfeit electronics parts enter the global supply chain.
According to Sharpe, the electronics component marketplace in Shenzhen, China, is the largest wholesale component distribution area of its type in the world. Of the components sold there, 30 to 40 percent are counterfeit.
Up to 15 percent of counterfeit electronics components are totally non-functional, but the 70 percent cost savings on authentic parts tempts local brokers and manufacturers to knowingly opt for counterfeits.
Brokers outside of China are sold counterfeit components which are represented as being new and original factory products.
Sharpe found that the city of Shantou, which is near Shenzhen, was the hub of counterfeiting operations.
Shantou’s operations ostensibly tout themselves as environmental initiatives for recycling discarded electronics.
Sharpe found e-waste stockpiled in Shantou, being washed in rivers and by the rain, before being sorted. He also found brand-name components from scrap PCBs were harvested for re-marking processing and counterfeiting.
According to Sharpe, counterfeiters are getting more sophisticated in their equipment and methods, in an attempt to avoid detection.
They have developed a new surface re-coating material which is immune to acetone surface-permanency tests, a process to remove manufacturer markings without requiring surface re-coatings, and a process to remove and recondition the top surfaces of ceramic components.
These developments mean most open-market suppliers’ in-house testing capabilities are unable to detect newer counterfeits.
Given the national security risk posed by counterfeit electronics parts (especially when “sprinkled” in military technology), the US is already developing various measures to counter the trend.
These include quality standards for counterfeit avoidance on the part of manufacturers and distributors, as well as AS6171, which specifies test methods for the identification of counterfeit electronic parts.
Defense contractors are also narrowing their list of approved open-market suppliers. Those who are approved are stringently audited.
The fact that e-waste is being used as source materials for counterfeiting suggests that countries like Australia and the US need to develop green processing of electronic scrap locally, and ban the export of such material to third-world countries for processing.