Watchdog Calls for Fixing Washington State's Leaky e-Waste Law to Stop Illegal Exports

New State Bill Seeks Greater Transparency and Control

March 7, 2017. Seattle, WA. - The Basel Action Network (BAN), the Seattle based environmental watchdog organization that last year used GPS tracking devices and caught out several official Washington State electronic waste processors or collectors illegally exporting toxic e-waste to substandard operations in China, is now calling for reforms in Olympia.

BAN's e-Trash Transparency Project project revealed that corporate participants in Washington State's e-Cycle program including electronics recyclers -- Total Reclaim, IMS and EWC Group and collector Interconnections were all caught exporting their electronic waste to China rather than recycling the public's electronic waste here in the US in an environmentally sound way and in accordance with the program's standards. Indeed, the three processors caught exporting by BAN's trackers were the top three program processors in the last reported year of 2015. The waste allocations given to the these processors are determined by an entity run by electronics manufacturers known as the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority (WMMFA). It operates without public oversight or knowledge as to whether the allocations are fair or whether the prices paid to recyclers provide enough profit to safely and legally manage the e-waste.

One of the companies, Total Reclaim, was hit with a $444,000 fine by the Department of Ecology for a hazardous waste violation, but this came only after BAN caught them by travelling to Hong Kong and photographing the company's e-waste boxes in electronics junkyards there with local PBS TV station KCTS. Total Reclaim then was forced to admit that it had been exporting hazardous e-waste for the last 7 years. WMMFA estimates that this export amounted to about 3,350 tons of hazardous e-Waste. In all, Total Reclaim received more than half of the state's 2015 e-waste volume, and was likely rewarded the high volumes because it made low bids.

Despite the violations discovered, the company nor the other companies BAN's trackers identified were ever charged with violating the Washington Electronics e-Cycle Law. Total Reclaim was never removed from the e-Cycle Washington program and has never even been listed as being out of compliance with it. Rather, they are reportedly still getting major volumes of e-waste from State collectors including this year after their violations made major headlines. Violators, Interconnection and e-Waste Center have not been prosecuted at all.

BAN is calling for the otherwise excellent Washington State electronic waste recycling law to be corrected following the recent revelations.

"We are concerned that the state provides far too little oversight over the manufacturers and they in turn appear to only care about paying very little for recycling and not whether the companies violate basic norms and standards for responsible recycling," said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett. "As in any government bidding process, we need to know what prices are being paid to which recyclers, how the winning bids were determined, and why it is that violators are rewarded rather than punished."

Last week a new reform bill (1824 HB), sponsored by Representative Strom Peterson of the 21st Legislative District, passed the house and is NOW expected to come up for a vote in the Senate where it is expected to face stiff opposition from computer manufacturers. It aims to provide more transparency on the internal bidding process, and punish blatant scofflaws like Total Reclaim by removing them from the program after two offenses. BAN supports the bill as the first of many steps that need to be taken to reform the program.

"The Washington public needs to know that when they deliver their old computers and monitors for recycling that they are not just going to go to the lowest bidder to end up poisoning the planet and impoverished workers abroad, but will be safely recycled by reputable recyclers here in Washington State," said Puckett. "Right now, that is far from assured."

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For more information contact:

Jim Puckett, Executive Director of Basel Action Network,
email: jpuckett@ban.org, phone: +1 (206) 652-5555

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 or blog.BAN.org.