E-Waste Investigation Uncovers Problem of Fake "Green" Recyclers


Photo via Tom Raftery

The Sacramento Bee has published an article that delves into the problem of e-waste -- the mountains of electronic devices that have to be dealt with as consumers upgrade to ever newer, ever more numerous gadgets. However, more than just a deep look into a frustrating issue, the article uncovers ERI, an electronics recycler that claims to be green but is anything but. What ERI has done highlights a huge problem for the electronics recycling industry.
From the Sacramento Bee:

In California, few recyclers tout their green credentials more prominently than John Shegerian, chairman of Electronics Recyclers International in Fresno, who has invested millions in environmental improvements over the past five years.

Shegerian told The Bee that e-waste exports are deplorable. "It's the last thing we want to be known for," he said. "It's just horrible on every level."

Yet documents show that as recently as 2008 even ERI was quietly selling large volumes of e-waste to a Los Angeles exporter who shipped it to Hong Kong. While legal, the sale violated a pledge the company signed with the nation's leading e-waste watchdog group, the Basel Action Network.

Ouch. We've heard stories about this very thing before -- in fact, we even heard of Basil Action Network nabbing some recyclers itself. This sort of thing doesn't help in the slightest when it comes to encouraging consumers to find responsible recyclers, rather than just returning electronics to any old drop-off. Really, there's a whole lot about the (well done, must read) article that could be disheartening and discouraging to anyone worried about the environmental impact of electronics.


Photo by Iowa_spirit_walker via Flickr Creative Commons

The Sacramento Bee article was brought to our attention by GreenBiz, which states, "Holding ERI out as an example is important, because the company is not just trying to green its operations, it's pledged to uphold the Basel Action Network's code of conduct as part of the new e-Stewards responsible recycling certification. If a company can export millions of pounds of toxic waste and still be part of what is still likely the best overall certification for environmentally responsible electronics recycling, how can anyone be sure their electronics aren't going overseas or to prison yards? In part, the answer will be that it's going to take time."

It's an excellent point.

Like many third party certification companies, problems like what happened with ERI in 2008 have to be sorted out. Even Energy Star is guilty of being too lax on certifications, as we saw with the rather embarrassing news earlier this year. It is likely a mix of growing pains on the part of certifying organizations, the influx of recyclers wanting to wear the label in order to drum up more business from eco-conscious consumers, and the rising number of gadgets needing to be recycled.

However, there are no excuses acceptable for claiming to be an environmentally responsible recycler while creating hazardous environments for workers and shipping containers of components to e-waste dumps overseas.

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More on E-waste
Connecticut Becomes 24th State to Put e-Waste Recycling Into Law
Recycling E-Waste In Confidence: A Reachable Goal
BAN Uncovers e-Cycler Lying, Sending e-Waste Overseas

Tags: Electronics | E-Waste | Recycling

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