One of the fastest growing waste streams in America is e-waste from the hundreds of thousands of tons of electronics we throw out. Because we consume electronics at an alarming rate, communities have been encouraged to recycle e-scrap so as to minimize the damage done to our environment and water tables. Gold, platinum, lead, mercury and other metals are released into the environment when cell phones and televisions end up in landfills. Needless to say, recycling is important. But what happens when recycling causes more damage than it was supposed to solve?
The Basel Action Network Expose
A recent BAN project exposed Seattle-based processor Total Reclaim for selling exported e-scrap to Hong Kong. How did they find out? BAN’ e-Trash Transparency Project placed low-value electronics containing GPS tracker units into the recycling stream and followed their trail. A whopping one-third of the time, the units ended up overseas. Since Total Reclaim managed over 21 million pounds of electronics for the state of Washington, that is quite a bit of tonnage going overseas. The result? Total Reclaim lost their certification, was fined $444,000 by the state Department of Ecology and the exposure prompted new legislation.
Why is This Important?
This is more than a matter of simply reselling materials to make a profit. Conditions for recycling e-scrap overseas are a complicated mess of environmental and biological hazards. Because of the precious metals, people will smash the electronics to get to the goodies inside. Often these workers are children. Smashing the electronics to get what bit of metal can be reused inside exposes both the workers and the environment to serious toxic materials.
Certified Recycling Agency
Working with a transparent and certified recycling agency is critical to ensure that your products are thoughtfully processed. Legislation is pending in the state of Washington to ensure transparency and secure penalties for companies unwilling to do things the right way.