BAN Alleges 28 US recyclers Are “Apparent Exporters of Likely Illegal” Shipments of Used Electronics, Yet Does Not Assert Culpability
Today, the Basel Action Network (BAN) issued its latest press release on exports of electronic waste (e-waste) from the United States. This press release casts a critical and necessary light on exports that may be or are illegal, and that can lead to harm of workers and communities in developing countries. Indeed, there are companies in the U.S. that engage in these deplorable practices, including some that have been certified under the Responsible Recycling (R2) or e-Stewards certification programs. This must be addressed and, within R2, it is being addressed.
BAN, which owns e-Stewards, has been working doggedly for years highlighting the issue of e-waste exports. Sadly, BAN’s “studies”, reports, and flurry of press releases cross a line, completely blurring the critical distinction between BAN as an environmental watch dog group and BAN’s interest in promoting its e-Stewards program. BAN’s e-Stewards program is the chief market competitor to the R2 system, and its press releases – including today’s – consistently and predictably go after R2 while promoting e-Stewards. BAN focuses more on promoting the certification program it owns – its financial lifeline – and disparaging its competition, than it does trying to solve the real problem of exports that are illegal or harm workers and communities. BAN never shared the study results with SERI. If it were actually serious about addressing the problem, wouldn’t this be an obvious step to have taken?
“BAN’s mission is unquestionably important and its concerns about improper exports are shared by all responsible individuals and entities,” stated John Lingelbach, executive director of SERI, “yet many find BAN’s claims, methods, and “findings” suspect.”
Just last September, BAN issued a press release stating: “Approximately 80% of electronic waste currently delivered to recyclers is actually exported to developing countries” (September 5, 2015), offering no basis whatsoever for the dubious claim. BAN’s press release today states that 40% of “old printers and monitors” identified in a “secret tracking project” “went offshore”.
The report BAN introduces today alleges that 28 US recyclers are “apparent exporters of likely illegal” shipments of used electronics – though on page 26 the report explicitly states that it “does not indicate or infer culpability”. Words such as “apparent” and “likely” are conveniently (from BAN’s perspective) overlooked by the casual reader. This is hardly more than innuendo.
Another example of BAN’s carefully crafted obfuscation: today’s press release and the secret tracking report make contradictory statements – the press release states the “Hong Kong government should ban all imports of hazardous e-waste” while the accompanying report states “Hong Kong has a prohibition on the import of hazardous e-waste” (Page 9).
The report starts off with a section on the press it has garnered, an unusual and extraordinarily self-promoting way to start a serious investigative report. The tracking study used technology in new ways that are untested and can produce false positives, leading to false allegations being levied against reputable recyclers. Moreover, as the report explains, BAN placed GPS trackers in only 205 used electronic devises, thus generating results that are not statistically significant given the size of the US electronics recycling industry. This is hardly a sound basis for a press release entitled “Secret Tracking Project Finds that Your Old Electronic Waste Gets Exported to Developing Countries.”
With regard to the certification programs, yes they both must redouble their efforts to prevent illegal and harmful exports from occurring within their memberships. To this end, R2 is revamping its quality oversight program to align more closely with the aerospace industry’s certification program, which is renowned for its rigor and results. What is BAN doing?
SERI has and will be instituting measures that will significantly increase its ability to identify and rid the program of recyclers that do not comply with the R2 Standard’s rigorous requirements. More important, these measures will work to prevent recyclers from gaining R2 certification in the first place.
During just the first 8 months of this year, SERI conducted spot audits on over 40 of its approximately 600 certified companies. These audits are effective. In a handful of instances, these audits have uncovered serious infractions and SERI has moved to have the company’s certification suspended or revoked. In other instances, the audits identify relatively minor infractions and we work with the company to correct them.
In addition, SERI will be instituting an ambitious, comprehensive program to review R2 companies’ audit packages – the evidentiary basis upon which certification is granted. This will enable us to evaluate the company’s conformance to the R2 Standard, the auditor’s performance in gauging this conformance, and the Certification Body’s basis for issuing the certification.
Furthermore, if it appears necessary to achieve the quality to which we aspire, the SERI Board plans to evaluate significantly more dramatic changes to the fundamental structure of the certification program.
With respect to the report BAN released today, SERI will review and assess the quality and validity of its findings, both generally and with respect to the R2 companies it identifies.
For the 10 R2 recyclers BAN alleges exported old printers and monitors – even in the face of hard evidence that in at least one case such an export did not occur – we will take actions that it appears BAN didn’t bother to take in all instances. We will determine:
- — Whether a hazardous piece of equipment was in fact exported rather than, for example, a piece of plastic with a transponder still affixed to it;
- — Whether any export that took place was in fact illegal rather than “likely” illegal
- — Whether any hazardous equipment that was exported in fact ended up being managed in a manner harmful to workers or communities
Any companies found to have violated the R2 Standard in any of these egregious ways will be removed from the program.
For the other R2 companies named in the report, but that BAN did not identify as “Apparent Exporters”, SERI will work to identify any shortcomings in their due diligence and take appropriate action up to and including suspension from the program (though, as BAN well knows from its e-Stewards certified recyclers, even the highest quality due diligence is unlikely to uncover the outright fraud engaged in by a small number of downstream vendors).
BAN has identified a very serious problem. It is up to the rest of us – all who care about responsible electronics recycling – to address it through the various means available to us, icluding but not limited to the R2 certification program.