ISRI Board Charts Roadmap to Address Global Electronic Scrap Recycling
BAN, ISRI differ on industry association's suggested course of action
by Recycling Today
29 March 2010 – The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries’ board of directors has laid out a roadmap addressing the growing problem of the improper export of end-of-life electronic scrap.
In voting unanimously to approve a new, aggressive policy to protect health, the environment and worker safety, ISRI’s board of directors signaled that its members are behind efforts to stem possible health and environmental hazards that occur when e-scrap is not exported responsibly.
Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, says, "The ISRI Board voted today to adopt an aggressive, forward-looking policy that puts forth a safe, responsible and legal framework for electronics recycling both at home and abroad."
"Among other provisions, the policy bans the export of electronic equipment and components for landfilling or incineration for disposal and requires that facilities outside the U.S. that recycle or refurbish electronics have a documented, verifiable environmental, health and worker safety system in place” Wiener adds
ISRI notes that its board’s decision reinforces environmental, health and worker safety standards that closely track the EPA's Responsible Recycling (R2) program. EPA's R2 program was finalized in 2008 to create and adopt safe and effective policies for electronics recycling, both in the United States and abroad.
In sketching out its roadmap, ISRI notes that the EPA, several state governments, OEMs, electronic recyclers and trade associations including ISRI and ITIC sat down in 2006 to work on the standards. Additionally, these standards were tested in the field to ensure that companies who were awarded the certification had to meet tough benchmarks. The guidelines are used by accrediting organizations like the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) to certify that companies are complying with health, worker safety and environmental laws.
"ISRI has always been a staunch supporter of recycling electronics in compliance with domestic and international legal requirements," Wiener says. "This is emphasized in the new policy, which requires that facilities outside the United States that recycle or refurbish electronics have a documented environmental, health and worker safety system that can be verified; requires a business recordkeeping system to document compliance with all legal requirements; requires that any facility must be capable of handling hazardous waste; and ensures that US exporters can confirm a facility they export to is in compliance with the law."
Eric Harris, ISRI’s director of Government and International Affairs, notes that the newly adopted policy includes provisions that will address actual problems in recycling facilities throughout the world, rather than requiring a total trade ban on the export of electronic scrap as the only viable way to deal with irresponsible recycling outside of the United States.
In supporting the position, Harris pointed to a newly released study in the March 22, 2010, issue of the journal, Environmental Science and Technology. In the report, author Eric Williams of Arizona State University writes, "Trade bans will become increasingly irrelevant in solving the problem" and argues that a complete ban on export of used and end-of-life electronics to developing counties fails to solve the problem because the developing world will generate more used and end-of-life electronics than developed countries as early as 2017. Additionally, by 2025, the developing world will generate twice the amount of electronic scrap as what will come from developed nations.
"The policy adopted by the ISRI Board of Directors embodies the most environmentally sustainable and realistic approach to electronic scrap recycling," Wiener adds. "This is a responsible, safe and legal approach to electronics recycling that protects worker health and safety, as well as ensuring environmentally sustainable practices that can actually deal with this global issue."
In a countering argument, the Basel Action Network (BAN) has slammed ISRI for its position. In a release sent following ISRI’s statement, BAN denounced the long-awaited attempt at policy reform for electronic waste export from ISRI as a greenwash, a perpetuation of the same "export your harm" approach used to dispose of the growing mountains of toxic electronic wastes produced each year in the US.
In its statement, BAN claims that ISRI's policy fails to reference or even take note of the Basel Convention, a UN agreement that strictly regulates the global trade in wastes now in force for 172 countries. BAN also decried ISRI's position that developing countries can somehow manage toxic waste safely, when it is apparent that such countries lack the societal resources, infrastructure and safety nets to mitigate the deadly impacts of toxic waste processing.
"Dumping toxic, problematic wastes on developing countries is an easy way to make money, and the US scrap industry seems hell-bent on perpetuating that practice even when it has been globally outlawed," says Jim Puckett, BAN’s executive director. "This latest refusal to reform is really tragic," he continues. "Not only does this irresponsible practice succeed in exporting poisons to those least able to deal with it, but it means the loss of green US jobs as well."
The Basel Convention treaty forbids any member country from importing wastes from a non-Party like the United States. Therefore, ISRI's policy of ignoring the Basel Convention succeeds in creating illegal trafficking in waste worldwide, BAN continues.
Further, while ISRI claims that it will seek to export only to good facilities abroad, its policy position ignores the reality that even state-of-art technologies operating in countries that lack laws, monitoring, enforcement and infrastructure to support those facilities (including downstream residual waste management) will fail to prevent damage to the local environment and human health.
"It is a cruel joke that ISRI perpetuates the myth of 'environmentally sound management' in developing countries," says Puckett. "If a developing country like China or India had everything it needed to properly manage hazardous wastes like e-waste, it would no longer be a developing country."
BAN also claims that ISRI's policy of not allowing export for just recycling--and not disposal--is disingenuous as well, as all recycling must involve some disposal of residual material. For example, BAN claims that recycling LCD screens or computer monitors inevitably involves having to dispose of toxic cadmium compounds or mercury.
BAN calls on all consumers of electronics, large and small, to not be duped by fake recyclers, many of them ISRI members, that simply export old TVs and computers. Rather, they must ensure that their electronic discards are handled only by e-Stewards Recyclers - a vetted list of recyclers that are committed to the world's first global electronic waste certification program consistent with international law.
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.