Two environmental groups, the Basel Action Network and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, will launch an electronic-waste accreditation and certification programme that will prohibit shipping toxic e-waste overseas, the groups said Monday.
The certification programme, which 32 electronics recyclers already signed on to, will launch in early 2010, officials with the Basel Action Network (BAN) said. The certification programme will be an extension of the group's current E-Stewards programme, which lists environmentally responsible e-waste recyclers but doesn't audit their practices.
For several years, environmental groups have complained about the US and other countries shipping their toxic e-waste to developing countries, where the computers, televisions and other equipment can be recycled in primitive conditions. BAN executive director Jim Puckett recently returned to Guiyu, China, more than six years after the group investigated e-waste dumping there, and conditions have gotten worse, he said during a press conference.
The certification program will be North America's first independently audited and accredited e-waste recycler certification programme, according to the Basel Action Network, which is named after the Basel Convention, an international treaty focused on reducing the shipment of hazardous waste to developing countries. The US is one of a handful of countries that has not ratified the treaty, in force since 1992.
There's no overarching US law to prohibit dumping e-waste elsewhere, said Sarah Westervelt, BAN's E-Stewards coordinator. BAN will push for federal legislation in 2009, as it has in past years, she said.
"We're developing this programme because there's just a severe lack of controls on this electronic waste stream," Westervelt said. "This certification programme is vital right now because our government is essentially asleep at the switch."
Recyclers wanting to be certified under the new programme will not be able to dump toxic e-waste overseas or ship it to local landfills or incinerators. The certification will prohibit companies from using prison labuor to process e-waste and prohibit them from releasing private data contained on discarded computers.
E-waste processing facilities in many developing countries are the "sweatshops of the new millennium," Neil Peters-Michaud, CEO of e-waste recycler Cascade Asset Management, said during the press conference.
In September, the US Government Accountability Office released a report saying that the US is shipping e-waste containing toxic substances overseas, with little regulation and enforcement to protect people and the environment in those countries. The US Environmental Protection Agency has rules against shipping discarded CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors overseas, but several US recyclers appear to be breaking those rules, the GAO report said. The US doesn't have rules against shipping other discarded electronic equipment overseas.
Monday's announcement comes a day after the CBS news program "60 Minutes" aired a segment on e-waste recycling and Guiyu. The segment was a "powerful encapsulation of the horror story that is the e-waste trade as currently practiced," Puckett said. The "60 Minutes" segment featured a Colorado e-waste recycler, Executive Recycling. The CBS report followed a supposedly illegal shipment of CRT (cathode ray tube) computer monitors from the company's headquarters to Hong Kong.