Warning over e-waste cowboys

Consumers are being warned to avoid unethical recycling firms when disposing of their old electronics equipment.

Piles of unrecyclable computer waste are a common sight in parts of China. Picture courtesy of BAN.

Piles of unrecyclable computer waste are a common sight in parts of China. Picture courtesy of BAN.

US-based activists the Basel Action Network (BAN) and said many businesses calling themselves recyclers are shipping old televisions and computers to be dumped in developing countries, threatening workers' health and the environment.

In partnership with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC), the organisation has created the e-Stewards Initiative - a list of responsible e-waste recyclers in North America.

The campaigners are urging consumers to use the list to find businesses which do not export hazardous electronics equipment to developing countries, or dispose of it in landfills or incinerators.

"We may think we're doing the right thing by giving our old electronics to a recycler or a free collection event," said Sarah Westervelt, director of BAN's e-Stewardship Program.

"But many of these businesses calling themselves recyclers are little more than international waste distributors.

"They take your electronic items for free, or pocket your recycling fee, and then simply load them onto a sea-going container, and ship them to China, India or Nigeria."

Films released by BAN in 2002 and 2005 exploring the impact of exporting electronic waste showed women and children in China inhaling toxic vapours as they broke down circuit boards, and electronics that could not be repaired being dumped and burned in Nigerian swamps.

BAN and ETBC claim the practice is a particular problem in the US, because the Government has not ratified the Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment - international agreements prohibiting the trade in hazardous waste to developing countries.

The e-Stewards Initiative list can be found www.ban.org or www.computertakeback.com

Kate Martin



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