Watchdog Tracker Data Implicates More Washington State Recyclers Exporting the Public’s Toxic Electronic Waste to China

All claimed to never export, three are officially registered in State program

June 20, 2016. Seattle, WA. As part of its ongoing e-Trash Transparency Project, which installed and deployed more than 200 electronic tracking devices in old computer printers and monitors and then tracked them across the globe, the Basel Action Network (BAN) has announced that the tracker data it has received has revealed four more Washington State recyclers implicated in exporting toxic, non-functional electronic scrap equipment to locations in China in likely violation of Chinese law, recycling certification programs, and state and county policies.

The four recyclers, Interconnection, 1 Green Planet, EWC Group (eWaste Center), and IMS Recycling, were involved in the chain of custody that led to export to China (Hong Kong and mainland) even though China forbids such trade and even though each of the companies declared to customers on their websites that they never export electronic waste or non-working equipment to developing countries (see Appendix). Such fraudulent statements are likely violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Washington State Consumer Protection Act.

Each of the Washington State recyclers that the data has indicated are part of the export chain, are either listed on official government sites promoting electronics recycling or are officially contracted under the Washington State-legislated E-Cycle of Washington program (see table in Appendix below). Earlier in May, BAN revealed that Total Reclaim, an official processor with the Washington E-Cycle program, had exported waste LCD screens to Hong Kong. Total Reclaim has since issued a public admission and an apology.

The public, cities, counties, and state government have been lied to, possibly for years, by these so called recyclers who until now could act with the knowledge that they could game their audits and not get caught.” said BAN Director Jim Puckett. “The worst offense though, is what these sham companies have inflicted on the environment and on the health of unsuspecting laborers in the informal, highly polluting, e-waste scrapping operations in China and around the world. The illegal trafficking in hazardous e-waste revealed here is literally an international crime.

BAN refers to the United Nations’ Basel Convention treaty, from which BAN takes its name, and which in 1995 decided to prohibit the export of hazardous waste of all kinds including electronic waste from developed to developing countries. The United States is the only developed country in the world that has not ratified the Convention, and has not supported the decision to ban toxic waste exports to developing countries. Among others, all European countries forbid the export of hazardous electronic waste to developing countries.

Due to the “commerce clause” in the US Constitution, state laws cannot directly prohibit exports. Washington State, however, has stipulated that to attain “preferred” processor status (achieved by Total Reclaim, IMS and EWC Group), a company must ensure that each transit and recipient country legally accepts imports. But China and Hong Kong forbid imports of hazardous e-waste from the United States; thus, any exports to those destinations by Washington’s preferred processors violate Washington’s rules.

The first report in BAN’s e-Trash Transparency Project, entitled Disconnect, was released on May 9th together with PBS’s NewsHour documentary, “The Circuit”. That report and video highlighted the 46 trackers that BAN dropped off at Goodwill thrift stores, including those Goodwill outlets that were in partnership with Dell’s public e-waste take back program known as Reconnect. The report and video highlighted the data indicating what was likely to be illegal trade and by visiting the end-points of the trackers, was able to show the lack of protections in the discovered electronics junkyard operations in Hong Kong’s New Territories region. There, illegal immigrant workers are tasked, day in and day out, with breaking apart mercury-laden LCD monitors and toner-laden printers by hand, breathing in highly toxic particulates and vapors. BAN’s next report, due to be published in July, will focus on data from the 154 devices dropped off at recyclers across the country and delve deeper into the environmental impacts in China.

However, at the request of Washington State officials, who have strongly indicated an urgent need to make informed decisions on their remaining electronics recycling options, BAN decided to release today data pertaining to Washington State recyclers only, which includes relevant findings from an additional 5 trackers deployed as part of the PBS NewsHour documentary. The data from the 5 companies cannot be claimed as an exhaustive survey of Washington, as BAN only deployed 5 trackers in the state and there are 7 officially registered processors, and 350 officially registered collectors, along with many others that have elected not to be a part of the State program. BAN intends to continue the electronics tracking and reporting on the findings which indicate unethical electronic waste exports and fraudulent claims of responsible e-waste management until we can see the prevalent culture of cheating fundamentally shift.

We all have electronic waste to dispose of at some time in our lives. And sadly, BAN’s tracking devices, like little lie-detectors, are revealing that the electronics recycling industry is fraught with dumping and deception,” said Puckett. “It’s clear now, more than ever, that we must demand the strictest accountability, be ready to pay a bit extra for it, and only deliver our old electronics to recyclers willing to be held to the highest standard.

As an immediate solution, BAN recommends that business, government, and the public only use e-Stewards Certified Recyclers. e-Stewards is the only certification that prohibits exports of hazardous e-waste to developing countries and all e-Stewards recyclers are monitored by unannounced inspections as well as potential downstream verification through electronic tracking devices, in addition to annual on-site audits by certification bodies.