Tech firms called upon to advance e-waste transparency

Major tech firms including Apple and Dell have been urged to improve transparency in electronics recycling supply chains by the global toxic trade watchdog organisation.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) has reiterated a plea for electronic companies to publicly publish information on e-waste destinations. This follows an investigation revealing that many discarded electronic items are being exported to Asia for treatment, leading to unsafe labour and environmental conditions in the recipient countries.

“The public has the right to know where their old electronic waste, which is, in fact, hazardous waste, will end up,” BAN executive director Jim Puckett said. “They have the right to be assured that it will not end up poisoning workers, land, and water abroad.

“We called on all institutions, enterprises and especially manufacturers to pledge to always tell the public where their e-waste goes.”

BAN’s investigation placed 200 small GBS-based tracking devices into printers and monitors and delivered them to various recyclers around the US.

Evidence found that around 40% were exported to Asian countries and frequently broken down in dangerous backyard operations, by businesses who resort to hammers and burning to access re-usable metals. BAN claims that these operations expose workers and the environment to dangerous substances such as mercury and lead. Nearly all of these exports were illegal under US law.

A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in 12 countries in east and south-east Asia in a single year – up 63% in five years, according to recent analysis.

Tech challenge

Tech companies, many of which refuse to inform the public where their toxic e-waste ends up, are some of the major culprits. Dell Computers, which was called out in a previous BAN report, “continues to remain secretive about its downstream destinations”, according to the watchdog.

Although company policy dictates that Dell will never export its e-waste, BAN trackers revealed that 21% of the tracking devices delivered to Dell’s drop-off recycling programme were exported to Asia.

BAN has, however, reserved praise for industry leader Hewlett Packard (HP), which recently joined fellow tech firms Samsung and LG in achieving full transparency in North America about their recycling destinations.

As part of the company’s stringent recycling vendor management process, HP requires every specialist vendor to carry out environmentally-responsible processing techniques, comply with relevant government regulations, and achieve additional commitments like ethical labour practices and conformance to the Basel Convention, which limits shipment of non-functional electronics between countries.

HP’s director of human rights and supply chain responsibility Annukka Dickens is now calling for industry peers to follow suit. “HP is disclosing its recycling partners to raise the bar for transparency in our industry and to highlight the high standards we set for those vendors,” Dickens said.

“We challenge other companies in and outside of the high-tech industry to follow our lead and disclose recycler vendor standards and performance, as well as the list of recycling vendors they employ globally.”

George Ogleby

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