SERI responds to recent BAN report on e-scrap exports

R2 housing body announces measures to strengthen its certification program.

September 16, 2016
Recycling Today Staff

Boulder, Colorado-based SERI (Sustainable Electronics Recycling International), the housing body for the Responsible Recycling (R2) Standard, has responded to a recent study from the Seattle-based Basel Action Network (BAN) by saying the organization “cross[es] a line, completely blurring the critical distinction between BAN as an environmental watch dog group and BAN's interest in promoting its e-Stewards program.”

SERI’s response follows the release of BAN’s “Scam Recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US Recyclers,” which says that 40 percent of printers and monitors with GPS trackers placed on them by the organization and delivered for recycling in the U.S. were exported “to highly polluting and unsafe operations in developing countries—mostly in Asia.” The report was part of BAN’s e-Trash Transparency Project, funded by the Body Shop Foundation.

SERI says the BAN report casts “a critical and necessary light on exports that may be or are illegal and that can lead to harm of workers and communities in developing countries.” The organization admits “there are companies in the U.S. that engage in these deplorable practices, including some that have been certified under the Responsible Recycling or e-Stewards certification programs. This must be addressed and, within R2, it is being addressed.”

SERI says, “BAN, which owns e-Stewards, has been working doggedly for years highlighting the issue of e-waste exports.” However, the organization adds that “BAN's e-Stewards program is the chief market competitor to the R2 system, and its press releases—including today's—consistently and predictably go after R2 while promoting e-Stewards. BAN focuses more on promoting the certification program it owns—its financial lifeline—and disparaging its competition than it does trying to solve the real problem of exports that are illegal or harm workers and communities.”

SERI claims that BAN did not share the study results with the R2 housing body and asks, “If it were actually serious about addressing the problem, wouldn't this be an obvious step to have taken?”

John Lingelbach, executive director of SERI, says, "BAN's mission is unquestionably important and its concerns about improper exports are shared by all responsible individuals and entities, yet many find BAN's claims, methods and ‘findings’ suspect."

SERI says that BAN’s “Scam Recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US Recyclers" report alleges that 28 U.S. recyclers are "apparent exporters of likely illegal" shipments of used electronics, though on page 26, the report explicitly states that it "does not indicate or infer culpability.” SERI says, “This is hardly more than innuendo.”

SERI also raises concern about the technology BAN used in the study, saying it was used “in new ways that are untested and can produce false positives, leading to false allegations being levied against reputable recyclers.”

Additionally, the organization says the study’s sample size of 205 is too small to generate results that are statistically significant given the size of the U.S. electronics recycling industry.

SERI says R2 and e-Stewards “must redouble their efforts to prevent illegal and harmful exports from occurring within their memberships,” adding that R2 “is revamping its quality oversight program to align more closely with the aerospace industry's certification program, which is renowned for its rigor and results.

“SERI has and will be instituting measures that will significantly increase its ability to identify and rid the program of recyclers that do not comply with the R2 Standard's rigorous requirements,” the organization continues. “More important, these measures will work to prevent recyclers from gaining R2 certification in the first place.”

During just the first eight months of this year, SERI says it conducted spot audits on more than 40 of its approximately 600 certified companies. In a handful of instances, these audits have uncovered serious infractions, and SERI says it has moved to have the company's certification suspended or revoked. “In other instances, the audits identify relatively minor infractions, and we work with the company to correct them,” the organization adds.

SERI says it will institute a program to review R2 companies' audit packages—the evidentiary basis upon which certification is granted. “This will enable us to evaluate the company's conformance to the R2 Standard, the auditor's performance in gauging this conformance, and the certification body's basis for issuing the certification,” SERI adds.

The SERI board plans to evaluate significantly more dramatic changes to the fundamental structure of the certification program, the organization says.

With respect to the recent BAN report, SERI says it will review and assess the quality and validity of its findings, both generally and with respect to the R2 companies it identifies. For the 10 R2 recyclers BAN alleges exported old printers and LCD monitors, despite what SERI says is evidence that in at least one case such an export did not occur, SERI will determine:

  • whether a hazardous piece of equipment was in fact exported rather than, for example, a piece of plastic with a transponder still affixed to it;
  • whether any export that took place was in fact illegal rather than "likely" illegal; and
  • whether any hazardous equipment that was exported ended up being managed in a manner harmful to workers or communities.

SERI says companies found to have violated the R2 Standard in any of these egregious ways will be removed from the R2 program.

For the other R2 companies named in the report, but not identify as "Apparent Exporters" by BAN, SERI says it will work to identify shortcomings in their due diligence and take appropriate action up to and including suspension from the program.

SERI adds, “BAN has identified a very serious problem. It is up to the rest of us—all who care about responsible electronics recycling—to address it through the various means available to us, including but not limited to the R2 certification program.”