Utilizing high-tech methods to track high-tech wastes, environmental watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN) as part of their e-Trash Transparency Project, funded by the Body Shop Foundation, planted GPS trackers into 205 old printers and monitors and then delivered them to charities and recyclers. The new report, entitled Scam Recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US Recyclers, revealed that of those that were handed over to American electronics recyclers, 40 percent did not get recycled in the US as expected by customers, but were instead exported to highly-polluting and unsafe operations in developing countries, mostly in Asia.
“The American public continues to be scammed by unethical companies greenwashing themselves as ‘recyclers’,” said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett. “The toxic chemicals released by the crude breakdown of our old electronics in the junkyards in Hong Kong not only harms workers and communities abroad, but comes back to hurt us as well. We are the only developed country in the world that ignores this problem. It’s time to stop say ‘enough is enough’.”
- 40% of the 152 deliveries to US electronics recyclers went offshore; mostly to China
- 96% of the exports are likely to be illegal under international or US law
- 93% of the US e-waste exports moved to developing countries
- 75 companies were involved in a chain of transactions that led to export of e-waste*
- Many recyclers involved in export made website claims of never exporting
- “R2” Certified Recyclers exported at greater than average rates, e-Stewards Certified Recyclers at less than average
- Hong Kong electronics junkyards expose workers and the environment to dangerous toxins such as mercury.
The exported tracked devices, traveled to Hong Kong (37), Mainland China (11), Taiwan (5), Pakistan (4), Mexico (3), Thailand (2), Canada (2), and one each in United Arab Emirates, Togo, Kenya, Cambodia, and the Dominican Republic. MIT’s Sensable City Labs worked in partnership with BAN to produce an interactive online map to show the pathways of all of the 205 trackers.
Most of BAN’s trackers had found their way via ship and truck to 48 different sites in a semi-rural part of Hong Kong known as New Territories. BAN traveled there and visited the precise locations where the trackers ended up. They found massive volumes of LCD monitors, printers and other electronics being smashed each day and broken apart by hand in hidden junkyards, allowing the release of printer toners, and mercury phosphors easily inhaled by workers both unprotected from, and unaware of, the hazards.
BAN also looked at the electronics certification programs designed to improve ensure recycling management. The “R2” certification program created as a result of an EPA convened multi-stakeholder process has about 5 times more certified recyclers than the e-Stewards program (a more rigorous standard), but it was found that “R2” members had a higher rate of being associated with export than even uncertified recyclers. Recyclers certified to the e-Stewards Standard had the lowest export rate. The e-Stewards Standard was created by the Basel Action Network together with industry leaders. It is designed to be fully consistent with international law and is the only e-recycling program that utilizes tracker technology to verify conformity with the standard.
The BAN report calls for the following key recommendations:
- All consumers and businesses concerned about preventing pollution of the global environment should make exclusive use of e-Stewards Certified Recyclers.
- President Obama should sign an executive order to prevent US government e-waste from being exported overseas. All others can sign a petition for this.
- Manufacturers, governments and recyclers should commit to full transparency of where they send all of their hazardous electronic waste.
- Hong Kong government should ban all imports of hazardous e-waste and close the informal New Territories junkyards.
- http://wiki.ban.org/File:ScamRecyclingReport-web.pdf (low-resolution)
- http://wiki.ban.org/File:ScamRecyclingReport-print.pdf (high-resolution)
Jim Puckett, Executive Director, Basel Action Network