Warning: Digital Conversion May Result in Tsunami of Toxic TV Exports

Seattle, WA. June 12, 2009. The toxic waste watchdog organization, the Basel Action Network BAN), is warning consumers to be extremely careful about where they take their old TVs for recycling following the nationwide conversion from analog-to-digital broadcasting. They are urging consumers to only use qualified recyclers, the only list identifying electronic waste recyclers that will not export toxic TVs and other electronic waste to a developing country.

After today when many Americans wake up to no TV signal without a special converter box, cable or satellite, many will make the choice to finally upgrade their old “cathode ray tube” TV to a slick new flat screen TV.   Their old TV is obsolete and now a waste object for disposal, and smart consumers may believe that recycling is a better choice than placing it in a dumpster or at the curbside.

But BAN warns that currently, due to a lack of legislation forbidding such trade,  about 80% of those companies calling themselves “recyclers” in North America will simply export your old TV to countries like China, India, or Nigeria where the toxic leaded glass, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants which are found in materials in old TVs will poison villagers using primitive technologies to recover some materials, and then dump or burn the rest of the electronic waste.(1)

“There are few regulations in place and the ones that do exist are easily circumvented.  So many of these so-called recyclers take your TV or computer for free, or pocket your environmental fee, and then just turn around and ship your old TV to China or Vietnam,” said Sarah Westervelt Director at BAN. “There, our old entertainment devices end up causing misery and disease, and ultimately contaminate the entire planet, distributing lead, mercury, and cadmium into the ecosphere – not a good plan for anyone, anywhere.

It has been conservatively estimated by some recyclers that due to the digital conversion, about one in four households will get rid of a TV this year. If that is true, it would mean 27,790,564 TVs, each containing an average of 5 pounds of lead, will be disposed or recycled. And with 80% of this total shunted offshore to developing countries, about 56,000 tons of toxic lead alone would be transferred and dumped on some of the world’s poorest communties.

In 2002 and 2005, BAN released two documentary films, Exporting Harm and The Digital Dump, shining a spotlight on the horrors of the global e-waste trade and its very damaging impacts of toxic constituents in electronic products on the workers and environments of communities in Africa and China.   Last year they went with CBS’s 60 Minutes program to China and found the devastation of the environment from imported e-waste had gotten far worse. Recent studies in Guiyu, China, ground zero of the international waste trade, show some of the highest levels of dioxin, lead and other cancer-causing pollutants ever recorded.   Lead in the blood of 80 percent of the Guiyu’s children is dangerously high and already demonstrable brain impairment has been recorded.

A 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) condemned the EPA for not having comprehensive rules to control e-waste exports and poorly enforcing the one law that does exist for TVs and Computer monitors known as the “CRT Rule”.(2)   Since then, the EPA has begun welcomed enforcement of that rule, but unfortunately the law contains loopholes, exempting much of the leaded glass from regulation.   BAN, together with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC), is currently seeking national legislation to ban the export of all toxic e-waste (not just CRTs) to developing countries as all European countries have already done.(3)   And BAN has created the Initiative – a list of responsible e-cyclers* that have agreed not to export hazardous e-wastes to developing countries.

“The current legislative landscape is a haven for ‘waste cowboys’ that use developing countries as global dumping grounds when there is a profit to be made,” said Jim Puckett, BAN’s Executive Director.  “The ethical recyclers that will not export toxic e-Waste under the false pretext of recycling or reuse.”

Contact: Jim Puckett: 206-354-0391; Sarah Westervelt: 206-604-9024

Photos, research and documentation available:

Photographs available at: www.ban.org and others upon request.

The recyclers are currently subject to significant desk audits, verifying all of their downstream destinations throughout the recycling chain of toxic wastes, as defined internationally.  However, the program will soon become an accredited, third party audited, certification program. For more information check the website above.

For more information on illegal and irresponsible e-waste export: www.ban.org

(1) Just this last month BAN blew the whistle on EarthECycle, a Tulsa, OK., based recycler operating free takeback events in Pittsburgh and claiming that the waste would be processed locally.  BAN tracked their containers to Hong Kong and to South Africa.  Last year BAN assisted CBS’s 60 Minutes program in exposing another exporter known as Executive Recycling in Denver.   For more information on these incidents visit www.ban.org.

(2) https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d081044.pdf

(3) A bill introduced last month by Congressmen Jim Thompson and Gene Green is unfortunately insupportable as it allows a massive loophole for exports claimed to be sent for “reuse”, a common ruse of unscrupulous exporters.

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