GPS tracking of US e-scrap sparks controversy

United States: Environmental watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN) recently planted GPS trackers in 205 old printers and monitors and then delivered them to US recyclers and charities. It reports that 40% of the 152 deliveries went offshore, mostly to Hong Kong and China.

‘The American public continues to be scammed by unethical companies greenwashing themselves as recyclers,’ says BAN’s executive director Jim Puckett.

For example, some 96% of the exports are likely to be illegal under international or US law although 'many' recyclers claim not to export any material on their websites, he maintains.

Based on the GPS data, the e-scrap shipments were traced to: Hong Kong (37), mainland China (11), Taiwan (five), Pakistan (four), Mexico (three), Thailand (two) and Canada (two), as well as to the United Arab Emirates, Togo, Kenya, Cambodia and the Dominican Republic (one each).

‘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,’ Puckett insists. ‘It is time to stop and say “enough is enough”.’

In a key recommendation, he calls on Barack Obama to give an executive order ‘to prevent US government e-waste from being exported overseas’.

Certification debate

BAN also argues that recyclers with R2 certification ‘had a higher rate of being associated with export than even uncertified recyclers’. Recyclers certified to the e-Stewards standard (created by BAN and industry players) are said to have the lowest export rate. ‘All consumers and businesses concerned about preventing pollution of the global environment should make exclusive use of e-Stewards certified recyclers,’ BAN has suggested.

This conclusion does not sit well with non-profit organisation Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, which is the housing body for the R2 standard. It declares not only that the results are based on a very small sample but also that BAN is essentially broadcasting the data to boost its own commercial interests.


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