Environmentalists Oppose Weak Bill on Toxic E-Waste Exports

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Environmentalists Oppose Weak Bill on Toxic E-Waste Exports
[May 22, 2009] A bill introduced today by Rep. Gene Green concerning the electronic waste export problem will still allow exports of toxic waste to continue, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, a national coalition of environmental and consumer groups.  The bill, HR 2595, is sponsored by Rep. Green, as well as Rep. Mary Bono-Mack, and Rep. Mike Thompson.

“We need Congress to take action to close the door on the global dumping of e-waste,” said Barbara Kyle, National Coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. “But this bill has a huge loophole that will allow recyclers to continue to export our old e-waste to developing countries by claiming that it’s going “for repair or refurbishment.”

The Coalition expressed strong opposition to the fourth exception in the bill, which would allow exports if recyclers claimed that they were intended “for repair or refurbishment.”

Many of the current exports are sent labeled for reuse, supposedly to “bridge the digital divide.” But a 2005 film and report by the Basel Action Network, Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa, found that of the estimated 500 40-foot containers shipped to Lagos, Nigeria each month, as much as 75% of the imports are “junk” and are not economically repairable or marketable.

“We’re all in favor of the reuse of electronic equipment,” said Jim Puckett, Director of the Basel Action Network, a global watchdog group on toxic trade. “But this bill plays right into the hands of the thousands of brokers that want to send broken, outdated equipment to developing countries and a whole lot of useless toxic parts along for the ride.  This bill now legitimizes that despicable practice,” he said.

The coalition asserts that passing a bill with such a loophole will undermine those companies which are in fact managing their e-waste responsibly, and providing jobs here at home.

“This bill will do little to stem the tide of the thousands of containers of e-waste junk shipped to developing countries each month,” said Neil Peters-Michaud, the CEO of Cascade Asset Management, an electronics recycler with facilities in Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Washington.  “A person could simply say they shipped outdated and non-working hazardous e-waste abroad with the intent of getting it repaired for reuse.  This international toxic trade diminishes legitimate reuse and recycling programs that provide valuable jobs in the United States today.  It also gives consumers who think they are doing the right thing a false sense of security, because most of the equipment that can’t be repaired ends up poisoning people in developing countries.”

Dell recently announced a new policy on e-waste export that prohibits the export of any product or part that is not working to a developing nation.

“We would like to see federal legislation that is modeled on Dell’s export ban,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.  “Dell’s policy is that if the product isn’t working, they won’t export it to a developing country. Period.”

An August 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on exports of electronic waste found that “a substantial amount ends up in countries such as China and India, where they are often handled and disposed of unsafely. These countries often lack the capacity to safely handle and dispose of  used electronics if the units are not in reusable condition when received, and the countries’ extremely low labor costs and the reported lack of effective environmental controls make unsafe recycling commonplace.”

A recent report by Business Week found that e-waste exports to China are creating a national security problem for the US.  These exports of old computers are feeding a  large counterfeit computer chip industry, whereby workers pluck the chips from old consumer computers, sand off the numbers and repaint them, and then sell them into the US military supply chain as “military grade” chips. The Business Week investigation found that these chips have been purchased by the Pentagon, and can find their way into military jets, satellites, and security systems.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a national coalition of consumer and environmental groups promoting green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry in the US.  The Basel Action Network, a member in the Coalition, has produced films and reports on the problem of global e-waste dumping in Asia and Africa.

Electronics TakeBack Coalition:
Basel Action Network:
Facts on e-waste export: