End toxic exports, Texan tells Congress

Two members of the US House of Representatives are urging Congress to ban the export of toxic electronic waste to developing nations such as China.

Texan Gene Green and California representative Mike Thompson have introduced a Congressional resolution calling for the country to fall in line with other developed nations that have ratified the Basel Convention.

Although the US signed the convention, it has never ratified it.

The two politicians said they hoped the resolution would draw Congressional and public attention to the problem.

“Many Americans are unaware that discarded electronics contain lead, mercury and other toxics and end up being salvaged under inhumane conditions in the developing world,” said Mr Green, who is chairman of the House of Representatives’ Environment and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

“I am encouraged by the effort to improve e-waste recycling in the US, but progress is an illusion when ‘recycling’ means exporting e-waste to be picked over by scavengers under hazardous conditions.”

The most recent figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the US produced more than 2.6m tonnes of e-waste in 2005.

Just 330,000 tonnes – about 13% – was recycled by authorities, manufacturers, retailers and environmental groups in the US.

Much of the e-waste collected for recycling or reuse is shipped to Asia and Africa, where it is often burned in open fires with no safety equipment.

Mr Green and Mr Thompson are concerned that under current EPA regulations, most toxic e-waste is not subject to export restrictions.

“If the EPA cannot or will not act to halt the toxic e-waste trade to developing nations, then Congress should take action,” Mr Green added.

The resolution has been backed by the international group Basel Action Network (BAN) and the US-based Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

Campaigner Sarah Westervelt, who represents both organisations, said: “Such exports not only victimise the poorest communities with high-tech poisons, but undermine our own domestic recycling industry that seeks to do the job responsibly.”

Kate Martin

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