The Basel Action Network (BAN), a group opposed to the international dumping of toxic waste in developing countries, has condemned recent lobbying efforts by computer and other electronic equipment manufacturers for trade exemptions to export e-waste.
“The proposed exemptions would allow untested or non-functional electronic waste, often containing toxic lead, cadmium, mercury and brominated flame retardants, to be considered a non-waste and subject to free-trade in many circumstances so long as the exporter can claim that that the old equipment might be ‘repairable,’” BAN warned in a statement.
BAN issued its condemnation of the electronics industry Thursday at the opening of the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (COP11). This week’s meeting comes on the heels of the COP10 Basel meeting in 2011 that celebrated the advancement of the Basel Ban Amendment – an international agreement that forbids the export of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries, which has already been implemented by 33 developed countries.
BAN argues this latest industry effort would undercut the very reason for the Basel Convention.
“This is really a very shocking effort to further widen the floodgates of a tide of toxic techno-trash already inundating ports and dumps in Africa and Asia,” said Jim Puckett, BAN’s executive director, in a statement. “Industry claims this will foster re-use, which we fully support, yet they fail to adequately explain why re-use can’t be done in accordance with established Basel Convention rules. Truly caring about re-use would mean that manufacturers would make equipment that lasts longer, is upgradable, and does not contain toxic chemicals. It’s all just a bit disingenuous to claim that exporting broken, obsolete toxic equipment to developing countries is best for the environment."
The Information Technology Industry Council is leading the effort to secure the exemptions to the Basel Convention. The group represents computer and TV manufacturers, such as Dell, HP, Sony, Samsung, LG and Apple.
“Ironically, many of these companies individually have boasted policies against exports of e-waste. Yet it is known that ITI lobbyists have been approaching countries all over the world for months to persuade them to de-list broken, obsolete, used equipment from being considered waste under Basel, as long as it is exported in various broad categories of ‘repairable’ electronics,” BAN said.
According to BAN, a repairability claim can be made for virtually any type of broken, obsolete or junk electronics. And even if the repair really does take place, such operations create certain amounts of hazardous scrap in developing countries, which have difficulty managing it.
BAN noted recyclers in the United States and Europe are concerned about these exemptions because their investments in businesses to dismantle or shred e-waste and transform it into commodities will be undermined if it becomes legal to export whole broken, junk equipment without the expense of properly processing them.
“BAN represents over 100 recycling facilities and their customers who understand the need to abide by the responsible rules of the Basel Convention,” Puckett said. “It has been an expensive undertaking for them to internalize costs and do things the right way. Now its, ‘Nevermind! Don’t bother because almost everything can now be labeled repairable and simply shunted off to Asia or Africa.’ These exemptions, if accepted, would represent a devastating setback for both the responsible recycling industry and for human health and the environment in developing countries.” - Chris Gillis