Toxic Trade News / 12 June 2009
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Ethical Electronics Recycling Certifiers Can Now Be Accredited
by Environment News Service
12 June 2009 (Seattle, Washington) – Electronics equipment recyclers can now seek certification to a set of national criteria designed for protection of the public and the environment against unethical practices. Such practices can include export of toxic electronic waste to developing countries, the use of prison and child labor, and the dumping of toxic materials into local landfills.

The ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board, ANAB, and the nonprofit Basel Action Network have launched ANAB accreditation for the certifying bodies that will audit and certify the e-Stewards Certification program for electronics recyclers.

It is the first certification available that will halt the export of e-waste to developing countries.

ANAB provides accreditation to certifying bodies for many standards of the International Organization for Standardization, ISO. The board now has expanded its scope to include the e-Stewards Certification program, which is fully integrated with the ISO 14001 environmental management system standard.

“The e-Stewards Standard provides true accountability for responsible disposal of electronic waste, and with ANAB's oversight of the certification program, we intend to provide the consumer confidence and value,” said Randy Dougherty, ANAB vice president.

The certification is in the final stages of development, with the final verification phase about to begin. The first accredited certifications are expected later this year, and a full launch of the certification program to all comers is planned for early 2010.

At the core of the new e-Stewards Certification is what the Basel Action Network, BAN, calls an "ethical gold standard" for responsible electronic equipment recycling.

After years of "frustration" while contributing to multi-stakeholder standards development with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and others, Basel Action Network staff say they realized that "entrenched special interests would never agree to more than the lowest common denominator standards that would unfortunately fail to serve the marketplace of responsible customers and would even continue to allow practices that violate the laws of importing countries."

Last year, BAN began to work independently with the electronics manufacturers, recyclers, asset recovery companies and refiners to define a "rigorous but practical global standard with environmental, social, and occupational parameters" to finally solve the “e-waste anarchy.”

“We warmly welcome the vote of confidence from North America's leading accreditation body and their recognition of the need for a rigorous and ethical certification that consumers can use to finally be assured that their old computers will not end up poisoning children in China or Africa, nor contaminate our own groundwater here at home,” said Sarah Westervelt, BAN's e-Stewardship Program Director.

Unscrupulous electronics recyclers are attempting to make their fortunes by misrepresenting how they will handle unwanted devices.

Last month, BAN and the and the nonprofit Electronic TakeBack Coalition exposed a fake recycler that duped several branches of the Humane Society in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into sponsoring free public e-waste collection events that promised local recycling.

While posing as an ethical recycler, EarthECycle of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which handled the electronics collected in the Pittsburgh events, actually exported the e-waste to developing countries. The fraud was discovered by BAN volunteers who followed the EarthECycle trucks to warehouses and observed the unwanted electronics loaded from the warehouses into shipping containers.

Seven of the containers were photographed, their numbers were recorded and the containers were tracked using shipping company online tracking tools. One was sent to South Africa and six were sent to Hong Kong, with onward shipment to Vietnam planned for three of them.

Such shipments fall under the terms of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, an international treaty designed to prevent the transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries.

In accordance with BAN's normal practice for tracked containers, the Basel Convention competent authorities of Hong Kong and South Africa were warned of the pending arrivals of the electronic waste. Hong Kong authorities have returned one of the containers to the United States. BAN also notified the U.S. EPA of the possibly illegal shipments.

Basel Action Network Executive Director Jim Puckett says, "Corporate customers demand responsible management of their electronic waste, but they have often been duped by an industry that profits from a global shell game of shunting wastes, American jobs and responsibility offshore.

E-Steward certification is the first and best independent assurance that enterprise requirements will actually be met,” Puckett said.

ANAB will be providing accreditation for the e-Stewards program, and in addition, auditor training for ANAB-accredited e-Stewards certifying bodies will be provided by SAI Global. This applied information services company helps organizations manage risk and achieve compliance with relevant standards.

FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Basel Action Network is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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Select images courtesy of Chris Jordan