BAN: US federal government allowing e-waste recycling at lowest standards

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Source: Basel Action Network

Seattle, WA — A new report by federal agencies at the US Postal Service headquarters in Washington, DC, claims that the federal government is „leading by example“ in how it handles its own electronic waste (e-waste). But the Basel Action Network (BAN), a global toxic trade watchdog organization, strongly challenges this claim, noting that the government continues to allow use of the weakest available recycling standard, which in turn allows so-called recyclers to export the hazardous e-waste to developing countries. Such exported e-waste often winds up being processed by desperate laborers in dangerous back-yard operations in China, West Africa, and South Asia.

The US government’s current policies and programs allow federal e-waste to be managed by recycling companies that may have some of their facilities certified only to „R2“ – the weaker of two available e-waste recycling standards. Only the e-Stewards® Standard, created by recycling industry leaders and environmental organizations, requires its recyclers to fully adhere to the decisions agreed to by the 181 countries that are parties to the Basel Convention. These decisions forbid the export of hazardous wastes, including e-waste, to developing countries.

Continuing mass exportation of hazardous e-waste

„The continuing mass exportation of hazardous US e-waste to countries such as India, China, and Ghana, where it is managed in disastrous conditions, remains a shameful stain on US trade and environmental policy,“ said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of BAN. „The Obama Administration could do much to prevent this environmental and human rights injustice through its federal programs and policies, but by not requiring the e-Stewards Standard, or strict adherence to the Basel Convention’s decisions, they utterly fail to do so.“

For example, the federal program known as BlueEarth® utilizes the federal US Postal Service as a collection point for federal employee e-waste. In the descriptioniv of the program, the government states that the collected waste will be recycled by companies that are either R2 or e-Stewards certified. Yet the two standards are far from equivalent in rigor and protection, and only the e-Stewards Standard recognizes the international legal requirements of the Basel Convention that protect developing countries from hazardous waste dumping.

Industry leaders do more than government

BAN notes that already industry leaders such as Staples have done far more than our own government by ensured that their e-waste take-back programs only use e-Stewards Recyclers to manage the returned used electronics. Similarly, companies such as Bloomberg, Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, CapitalOne, Aflac, Samsung, LG, Alcoa, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and the cities of San Francisco and Seattle, have all agreed to become e-Stewards Enterprises that support use of e-Stewards Recyclers. Additionally, over 70 environmental organizations support e-Stewards including Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition. Meanwhile, the US government has yet to adopt the Basel Convention, and worse, actually creates programs that continue to allow federal electronics, paid for taxpayers, to be dumped abroad when they become waste.

„Finding new ways to collect e-waste and preventing it from entering the landfill is laudable, but not if we simply turn around and allow it to be exported to developing countries,“ said Jim Puckett. „Federal employees will be horrified to learn that the electronics they used on the job will now, thanks to the BlueEarth and other government programs, be exported to the dumping grounds of Asia and Africa. We can do better.“

Source: Basel Action Network