Environmental Protection

Consumers Warned of e-Waste Recyclers that Don't Recycle

In the wake of the Christmas electronic gadget buying season, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC) cautioned consumers not to be fooled by the many hundreds of businesses nationwide calling themselves electronics recyclers but in actuality most don't do any recycling but instead ship electronic waste to developing countries. There it is dumped or processed with primitive, dirty technologies that threaten workers health and the global environment.

The environmental groups have created a list of responsible recyclers and are asking consumers to do business only with recyclers on that list.

"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 many of those businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors. They take your electronic items for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load them onto a sea-going container, and ship them to China, India or Nigeria."

Once on foreign shores, your old computer or TV is likely to become part of a cyber-age horror story, the groups stated. In China, woman and children breathe in the lead-tin solder vapors as they cook circuit boards, dioxins are produced when wires are burned and acids baths are flushed into the rivers . In Nigeria the imports that are not repairable are dumped and burned in swamps.

According to BAN and ETBC, the practice of shipping electronic waste continues unabated in 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. As such exports are in contravention of international law, but not U.S. law, U.S. "recyclers" are able to claim they abide by all environmental laws, the groups stated.

To help distinguish between these exporters and globally responsible recyclers, 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. 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 on this list.

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