Coming soon, but not really soon enough: A certification to weed out shady electronics recyclers

Coming soon, but not really soon enough: A certification to weed out shady electronics recyclers

Summary: Just carved out a half-hour to sit on the teleconference for the Basel Action Network (BAN), which is a watchdog on the problem of toxic waste around the globe. The issue about which BAN is truly up in arms this week relates to the export of containers full of computers, monitors, televisions and other gadgets to developing nations where they are handled in ways that are dangerous not only to the environment but to the people who are hired to handle their disposal.

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TOPICS: China, Government
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Just carved out a half-hour to sit on the teleconference for the Basel Action Network (BAN), which is a watchdog on the problem of toxic waste around the globe. The issue about which BAN is truly up in arms this week relates to the export of containers full of computers, monitors, televisions and other gadgets to developing nations where they are handled in ways that are dangerous not only to the environment but to the people who are hired to handle their disposal.

The U.S. federal government has done little to enforce the prevention of exports to developing countries, according to BAN officials, while states are in some cases forbidden from taking action.

BAN announced this morning that it is stepping up its activism to expose and address the problem of toxic e-waste related to the recycling of computers and electronics devices by creating a bonafide certification for its e-Stewards Initiative. The program, outlined here, currently includes 32 companies that have voluntarily pledged to follow certain guidelines with respect to how they handle and dispose of technology. The organization will start field-testing the formal e-Stewards certification program next year and hopes to get it officially off the ground by 2010. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition apparently is also involved. Here's a press release with some more details from one of the participants.

BAN timed its announcement to play off the flurry of publicity sparked by the airing last night of a 60 Minutes segment that exposes the issue of e-waste in China. Here's a link to the segment.

"These organizations are just sweatshops of the new millennium," says Neil Peters-Michaud, CEO of Cascade Asset Management, which is one of the organizations that already participates in the existing e-Stewards program and one of three industry executives who was on the call with BAN.

"Better than 90 percent of the [electronics recycling] industry is defrauding their clients," adds Bob Houghton, president of Redemtech, another recycling company that has teamed up closely with BAN.

The third company participating with BAN on today's call was Guaranteed Recycling Xperts, which is an e-Steward.

Lots of claims were made on the BAN briefing, including the allegation that some electronics manufacturers are refusing to take on the issue themselves. More an ignorance is bliss stance than anything else. While many HAVE moved to provide information about where consumers can recycle, they HAVEN'T checked the credentials of some of these organizations beyond their face value, according to the folks on the call. Note to self: Be more careful in the future about the organizations I mention myself. One organization in particular, Executive Recyclers, took it on the chin in the 60 Minutes report and on the BAN call. Here's the organization's official response to questions regarding its export practices.

I've got a number of other pitches flooding into my email for commentary, which I'll follow up as the week unfolds.

Meanwhile, I'll leave you with one thought, even though it's not necessarily related to your life as a corporate IT person. That is, the whole issue of electronics takeback and recycling is going to get a lot more exposure leading into the digital TV switchover deadline of Feb. 17, 2009. So, like it or not, you're going to need to answer more questions about this issue and be prepared to defend your own company's practices as we get closer to that date.

Topics: China, Government

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  • clarification

    Thanks for covering this, Heather-- I encourage people to see www.e-Stewards.org for the latest information and list of responsible recyclers. We are currently upgrading our audits of these companies to a fully accredited system; until then, our list of e-Stewards is still the most reliable indicator of responsible recyclers.

    -BAN (www.ban.org)
    e-Steward
    • this is rubbish

      The BAN list looks like a whose who of ewaste exporters rather than responsible recyclers. They do not audit them, half are well known exporters, one in central CA handles tens of millions of pounds of ewaste (like printers, keyboards, VCRs etc) each year and is only now installing a plant to process them - where have they been going for the past 3 years during which time they have been a "pledge" member. The idea is OK, the checking and audit have been non-existant.
      ewaste recycler
  • RE: Coming soon, but not really soon enough: A certification to weed out shady electronics recyclers

    There are already certification programs out there. Problem is they have lacked promotion. To name a few:

    - The Insititue of Scrap Recycling Industries RIOS Certification,

    - International Association of Electronics Recyclers - Certified Electronics Recycler,

    - ISO 14000.

    Am I missing some?
    esteward-now