Consumers Warned of e-Waste Recyclers that Ship Old TVs or Computers toDeveloping Countries — Urged to Use “e-Stewards”
Seattle, San Francisco. 7 January 2008. In the wake of the Christmas electronic gadget buying season, with many of us buying new flat screen TVs, cell phones and computers now faced with disposing of the old ones, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) today cautioned consumers not to be fooled by the majority of businesses nationwide calling themselves electronics recyclers who in fact don’t do any recycling at all, but instead ship your old equipment to developing countries.
The Recycling Lie
“We may think we’re doing the right thing by giving our old electronics to a ‘recycler’ or a free collection event,” said Sarah Westervelt, BAN’s e-Stewardship Program Director. “But most of those businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors. They take your old equipment for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load it into a sea-going container, and ship it to China, India or Nigeria.”
Once on foreign shores your old computer or TV becomes part of a cyber-age horror story. In China, woman and children breathe in the toxic solder vapors as they cook circuit boards, dioxins are produced when wires are burned, and micro-chips are washed in strong acid baths and flushed into the rivers as primitive metals extraction techniques take their toll on the local environment and the health of thousands of migrant farmers. In Nigeria the imported techno-trash that is not repairable is dumped and burned in swamps.
BAN revealed these sad truths as early as 2002 in their film and report “Exporting Harm: The High Tech Trashing of Asia” and again in another report and film entitled “The Digital Dump: Exporting Re-use and Abuse to Africa,” in 2005.
Unfortunately, according to BAN and ETBC, this ugly waste trade continues unabated from the United States because the government refuses to ratify the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment – international accords prohibiting trade in hazardous waste to developing countries, and has otherwise expressed little interest in controlling its toxic waste exports as long as they are claimed to be destined for recycling or re-use. As such, US e-waste exports are in contravention of international law, but not US law, and thus US “recyclers” are able to claim they abide by all environmental laws and are even “EPA approved”.
Doing the Right Thing: The e-Stewards Initiative
To help distinguish between these unscrupulous exporters and the responsible recyclers and refurbishers, BAN and ETBC created the e-Stewards Initiative – a program identifying North America’s most responsible e-Waste recyclers that have agreed to adhere to strict criteria created by the non-profit environmental groups. The criteria require that no hazardous electronics equipment or parts (as defined internationally) will be exported to developing countries or be processed by captive prison labor, and that none of it will end up in landfills or incinerators. These responsible recyclers can be found at: www.ban.org/pledge1.html or www.computertakeback.com/responsible_recycling/index.cfm. Consumers are urged to avoid recyclers not on this list including free e-waste collection events that do not state that they only use e-Stewards recyclers.
“We strongly urge all consumers to avoid all but those recyclers that have qualified as e-Stewards. If your local recycler has not qualified for the program, ask them to do so. Otherwise while trying to do the right thing with recycling, you can unwittingly become a player in a global digital dumping game, and end up poisoning those in developing countries,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of ETBC.