Bill Geneseo, Harrison Transfer Station attendant, with four months' worth of waste that will be sorted and sold by the ton. Credit: Lori Valigra

Maine is boosting its trading opportunities by exporting tens of millions of dollars worth of a commodity that has nothing to do with the state’s iconic lobsters.

Waste and scrap metal, destined for recycling into big-ticket consumer goods, is among Maine’s top 20 categories of exports. It accounted for nearly $35 million of the state’s $1.2 billion in exports in the first half of 2017, and by year’s end, it could top the six-year high of $50.7 million exported in 2016.

Two countries, Mexico and Switzerland, made refuse their top trading item with the state this year after buying none the past two years. Mexico, a major exporter of cars and household appliances to the United States, imported close to $6.1 million in Maine waste, about 20 percent of the state’s total exports to that country. And Switzerland imported $9.25 million, or 68 percent of its total purchases from Maine.

Those markets give Maine new areas to sell recyclable metal waste and scrap from construction debris, junked car parts and discarded appliances. Some of the metals come from outside the state, but count as Maine exports when they leave via Maine ports.

Most of Maine’s scrap and waste left via Portland. However, almost 10 percent of Bangor’s total exports, valued at $527,221, was scrap iron and steel, ranking it the No. 6 export for the city, according to World City, a Miami consultancy. The city exports and imports goods through its harbor and airport.

“Most of the iron and scrap to Mexico is used for automotive and [consumer] white goods like refrigerators,” said Ken Roberts, president of World City. “Switzerland uses precious metals for jewelry.”

Both countries have dramatically increased imports of metals, likely due to pending trade issues, fluctuating metal prices and China’s efforts to drastically reduce waste imports, he said.

China plans to ban 24 solid waste imports by year’s end, reportedly due to environmental and health concerns. China had been a big trash market for Maine, but it has taken only $29,964 worth of waste so far this year, down from $832,732 in 2016.

Maine’s two new markets in Mexico and Switzerland could more than make up for any shortfall in China, analysts said.

Neighboring Canada is on track this year at $18.8 million to nudge up its waste and scrap purchases from Maine over 2016.

Waste and scrap trade is big business, in the top 20 of state and national trade, recent U.S. Census numbers show.

Mexico ranks fifth in taking waste and scrap exports from the U.S., while China still ranks first, followed by South Korea and Canada, according to a World City analysis of the recent U.S. Census Bureau data.