Industry and Activists Face Off on Electronics Waste Export

Date: April 5, 2010

Source: News Room

Industry and environmentalists are promoting competing policies for dealing with electronics waste export while the EPA considers revising its rules to address the issue and while Congress considers action. Last week, The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) announced its new policy for electronics recycling, which supports exporting electronics for recycling only to facilities that meet verifiable environmental, health and safety standards. That announcement soon drew criticism from activist group Basel Action Network (BAN) which called ISRI's new policy document as "greenwash." BAN and others have complained that used electronics frequently ends up in countries that process it with little regard for environmental and human health. Conversely, industry argues that a complete export ban is unrealistic because it fails to account for the market demand for used electronics and commodity-grade material in many developing economies.

BAN says ISRI's new policy is a "head-in-sand position that developing countries can somehow manage toxic waste safely, when it is apparent that such countries lack the society resources, infrastructure and safety nets to mitigate the deadly impacts of toxic waste processing."

ISRI says that its policy is consistent with both domestic and international law, including the Basel Convention, and relying on its hazardous wastes definitions is flawed since each country reserves the right to set its own definition of hazardous waste and moreover, many countries have not yet ratified the export ban amendment.

The debate over the voluntary programs could lay the groundwork for possible regulation or legislation on the issue. EPA is discussing if and how to regulate electronics recycling but has not reached internal agreement on how to move forward on the issue.


March 25, 2010

ISRI Board Charts Roadmap to Address Global Electronic Scrap Recycling

The board of the nation's largest trade association for recyclers today laid out a roadmap addressing the growing problem of the improper export of end-of-life electronic scrap.

In voting unanimously to approve a new, aggressive policy to protect health, the environment and worker safety, the Board of Directors of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) signaled that ISRI members are behind efforts to stem possible health and environmental hazards that occur when e-scrap is not exported responsibly.

"The ISRI Board voted today to adopt an aggressive, forward-looking policy that puts forth a safe, responsible and legal framework for electronics recycling both at home and abroad," said ISRI President Robin Wiener. "Among other provisions, the policy bans the export of electronic equipment and components for land-filling or incineration for disposal and requires that facilities outside the U.S. that recycle or refurbish electronics have a documented, verifiable environmental, health and worker safety system in place."

The ISRI Board's decision reinforces environmental, health and worker safety standards that closely track the EPA's Responsible Recycling (R2) program, which can be accessed on the EPA's Web site at:

EPA's innovative R2 program was finalized in 2008 to create and adopt safe and effective policies for electronics recycling in the US and abroad. Career professionals at the EPA, several state governments (including Minnesota and Washington), OEMs, electronic recyclers and trade associations including ISRI and ITIC sat down in 2006 to begin work on these standards. Additionally, these standards were tested in the field to ensure that companies who were awarded the certification had to meet tough benchmarks. The guidelines are used by accrediting organizations like the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) to certify that companies are complying with health, worker safety and environmental laws.

"ISRI has always been a staunch supporter of recycling electronics in compliance with domestic and international legal requirements," Wiener said. "This is emphasized in the new policy, which requires that facilities outside the United States that recycle or refurbish electronics have a documented environmental, health and worker safety system that can be verified; requires a business record-keeping system to document compliance with all legal requirements; requires that any facility must be capable of handling hazardous waste; and ensures that US exporters can confirm a facility they export to is in compliance with the law."

ISRI Director of Government and International Affairs Eric Harris noted that the newly adopted policy includes provisions that will address actual problems in recycling facilities throughout the world rather than requiring a total trade ban on the export of electronic scrap as the only viable way to deal with irresponsible recycling outside of the United States.

Harris pointed to a newly released study in the March 22, 2010, issue of the journal, Environmental Science and Technology. In the report, author Eric Williams of Arizona State University writes, "Trade bans will become increasingly irrelevant in solving the problem" and argues that a complete ban on export of used and end-of-life electronics to developing counties fails to solve the problem because the developing world will generate more used and end-of-life electronics than developed countries as early as 2017. Additionally, by 2025, the developing world will generate twice the amount of electronic scrap as what will come from developed nations.

Williams is an assistant professor at Arizona State University with a joint appointment in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, a part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Sustainability.

"The policy adopted today by the ISRI Board of Directors embodies the most environmentally sustainable and realistic approach to electronic scrap recycling," Wiener added. "This is a responsible, safe and legal approach to electronics recycling that protects worker health and safety, as well as ensuring environmentally sustainable practices that can actually deal with this global issue."

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