Trash Talk: US Considers Tighter Regulations for E-Waste Exports

Ship Leaving Bay Area With Empty Containers Photo

Ship leaving Bay Area. Image via: Derell_Licht on Flickr. com

With more countries tightening down on their e-waste disposal and exporting regulations and requirements, and with communities in the US requiring special disposal of E-Waste, but no follow-through on where it should go, US State Department officials are having to give trash another look, reports the New York Times. With more e-waste being collected in communities, will the US finally sign the Basel Convention?One State Department official anonymously reported that the government is looking into this issue and considering signing onto the Basel Convention. Under the Bush Administration, the US refused to sign. The problem is that the Basel Convention mandates that items not be sent to a developing country unless they agree to accept them and have the capability to take care and dispose of them safely. Many of the e-waste items are shipped to African countries, where there is a wide spectrum in abilities to handle disposal.

US cities are requiring proper disposal of e-waste but there is no followthrough because the US doesn't mandate what happens next. As more is collected, it is time for the US to come up with a master plan. Currently the US and Canada send roughly 100 containers a day to Hong Kong to dispose of e-waste, all of it legal. They feel that in some instances shipping items to developing countries can be okay, for example, where a product was originally manufactured in China, is sent back there for recycling.

European nations are also tightening down on recycled materials and hazardous e-waste but are still finding that many items are being illegally exported. As companies don't want to have to pay to dispose of waste properly, it's easier just to pay someone underground and make the problem disappear, or to hide waste among other recyclables and hope no one finds out. Currently it is four times more expensive to incinerate waste in Europe (the rule) rather than to put it on a boat to China (the exception). Two to three million tons of e-waste was turned into European officials last year after regulations were passed mandating the proper disposal. Officials were expecting to see closer to seven million tons and estimate that the difference was illegally exported.

The Dutch now are taking a much stricter approach to inspecting exports but still estimate that 16% of the exports are full of illegal materials. Xray scans and computer tracking of suspicious containers helps, but many companies are just going to other ports if they can't get their waste send through Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe. Other countries are sending e-waste at much higher rates due to lax security on exports. In one instance, the Dutch seized a US container full of old paint cans on its way to Nigeria. But, since the US is not party to the Basel Convention, the Dutch were unable to send it back to the US and just had to dispose of it properly themselves. Hopefully this dirty issue will work itself out and the Dutch won't be left holding the garbage in the future. : The New York Times
More on E-waste
E-Waste in India: A Growing Industry & Environmental Threat
Encourage E-Waste Recycling in Your Workplace
Recycling E-Waste in Confidence: A Reachable Goal
It's Time to Say Goodbye to E-Waste: Why Our Gadgets are Toxic to Developing Nations

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