A new report from the Basel Action Network (BAN), Seattle, titled “Scam Recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US Recyclers” says that 40 percent of printers and monitors 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, through which the organization planted GPS trackers into 205 old printers and monitors and then delivered them to charities and recyclers.
“The American public continues to be scammed by unethical companies greenwashing themselves as ‘recyclers’,” says BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett.
“The toxic chemicals released by the crude breakdown of our old electronics in the junk yards in Hong Kong not only harms workers and communities abroad but comes back to hurt us as well,” he continues. “We are the only developed country in the world that ignores this problem. It’s time to stop say ‘enough is enough’.”
According to the BAN report:
- Forty percent of the 152 deliveries to U.S. electronics recyclers went offshore, primarily to China.
- Ninety-six percent of the exports are likely to be illegal under international or U.S. law.
- Ninety-three percent of the U.S. e-scrap exports moved to developing countries.
- Seventy-five companies were involved in a chain of transactions that led to export of e-scrap.*
- Many recyclers involved in export made website claims of never exporting.
- R2 (Responsible Recycling) certified recyclers exported at greater than average rates, e-Stewards certified recyclers, the certification developed by BAN, at less than average.
- Hong Kong electronics junk yards expose workers and the environment to dangerous toxins, such as mercury.
The exported tracked devices, travelled to Hong Kong (37), Mainland China (11), Taiwan (five), Pakistan (four), Mexico (three), Thailand (two), Canada (two), and one each in United Arab Emirates, Togo, Kenya, Cambodia and the Dominican Republic. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Senseable 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 semirural part of Hong Kong known as New Territories, the organization says. BAN says it traveled there and visited the precise locations where the trackers ended up, finding "massive volumes of LCD monitors, printers and other electronics being smashed each day and broken apart by hand in hidden junk yards, allowing the release of printer toners, and mercury phosphors easily inhaled by workers both unprotected from, and unaware of, the hazards."
BAN says also looked at the electronics certification programs designed to improve recycling management and claims that the R2 certification program created as a result of an EPA convened multistakeholder process has about five times more certified recyclers than the e-Stewards program, but it was found that R2 certified companies had a higher rate of being associated with export than even uncertified recyclers. BAN says recyclers certified to the e-Stewards Standard had the lowest export rate. Ban says e-Stewards is the only e-recycling certification program that uses 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 U.S. government e-scrap from being exported overseas.
- Manufacturers, governments and recyclers should commit to full transparency of where they send all of their hazardous electronic scrap.
- The Hong Kong government should enforce its ban all imports of hazardous e-scrap and close the informal New Territories junk yards.