For Immediate Release
GPS Trackers Reveal Australian e-Waste Exported to
Government Program Caught Violating International Law
August 8/9th, 2018. Seattle, WA. The global waste watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN) released its findings today of a year-long United Nations funded study that used GPS trackers hidden inside of 35 old computers, printers, and monitors. They found that two of the devices left at the consumer take-back desk at Officeworks were exported to developing countries in Asia in likely contravention of international law.
The BAN study entitled "Illegal Export of e-Waste from Australia: a story as told by GPS trackers" described how BAN, mimicking the actions of Australian consumers, delivered the used computing equipment to official government-sanctioned consumer drop-off locations in Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney and then monitored the signals sent by the devices over the course of a year.
Most of the equipment ended up in the hands of recyclers or was dumped into landfills and stopped signaling. But two LCD monitors containing toxic mercury back-lights, that were handed over to a pair of Officeworks stores in Brisbane presumably for domestic recycling were exported -- first to Hong Kong with one moving onward to Thailand.
According to BAN, the export of toxic waste of any kind should be strictly controlled under the terms of the Basel Convention to which Australia is a party. China, including Hong Kong, is also a Basel Party and has strictly forbidden the import of any waste device containing mercury.
"These exports should never have happened," said Jim Puckett, BAN's founder and director. "And it stands to reason that this discovery represents far more volume than simply two devices. It is imperative that the Australian government conduct a full review of their consumer takeback programs, and prosecute any violators for criminal trafficking in hazardous waste."
Another study by the United Nations University reports that Australia generates more than 570,000 tons of e-waste every year. Extrapolation of the exports BAN identified could well represent as much as 16,302 tons of such e-waste exported to developing countries per year and would fill around 900 intermodal containers -- no small amount.
BAN followed the GPS signals to Hong Kong and on to Thailand. The site in Hong Kong had been cleaned out and was likely just a temporary staging area. But, in Thailand they found a large "dioxin factory" where e-waste was first broken apart and then the removed circuit boards were processed en masse with crude chemical and smelting techniques in an effort to extract the gold and copper. BAN assessed that the operation was extremely polluting as the plume of smoke from the burning circuit boards would contain some of the most harmful substances known -- dioxins, furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals and would fallout over the observed local crops of rice, castor beans and mangos. Meanwhile, the sludge from the aqua-regia chemical acid stripping were dumped into an onsite sludge pond and this, combined with the open dumping of ashes and slags from the smelter, was certain to contaminate the groundwater.
In the report, BAN urged Australia to ratify an agreement known as the Basel Ban Amendment which Australia has long opposed. This agreement, put in place by an initiative of the developing and European countries, forbids the export of hazardous waste for any reason from developed to developing countries. The Ban Amendment lacks but 3 countries before it enters into legal force.
"We call on Australia to join the European Union in ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment," said Puckett, "and in so doing renounce using their global neighborhood as a dumping ground and instead use Australian ingenuity and wealth to once and for all embrace national self-sufficiency in waste management as called for by the Basel Convention."
For more information contact:
Jim Puckett, Executive Director of Basel Action Network,
phone: +1 (206) 652-5555
Hayley Palmer, Program and Operations Director of Basel Action Network,
phone: +1 (206) 652-5555
To download the report, click here.
About Basel Action Network
Founded in 1997, the Basel Action Network is a 501(c)3 charitable organization of the United States, based in Seattle, WA. BAN is the world's only organization focused on confronting the global environmental justice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade and its devastating impacts. Today, BAN serves as the information clearinghouse on the subject of waste trade for journalists, academics, and the general public. Through its investigations, BAN uncovered the tragedy of hazardous electronic waste dumping in developing countries. For more information, see www.BAN.org.