Wednesday, August 18, 2010

USA: Hazardous e-waste regulation without export ban?

Electronic waste is exported from the U.S. to developing countries by the majority of so-called recyclers, to be bashed, burned and melted down in unsafe conditions in developing countries, such as China, India, Nigeria and Ghana. Eighty percent of children in Guiyu, China, a region where many “recycled” electronics wind up, have elevated levels of lead in their blood, due to the toxins in those electronics, much of which originates in the U.S.

The Basel Convention is an international treaty that governs trade in toxic waste. The U.S. signed the Basel Convention, but has never ratified it, and would need implementing legislation to do so. But ratifying the Convention alone, as recommended by the GAO report, would not stop U.S. e-waste exports to developing nations – and ironically would legalize that unscrupulous trade which is currently illegal under international law. There is a separate amendment to the Basel Convention, called the Basel Ban Amendment, which bans developed nations from sending hazardous waste to developing nations. Countries must ratify the agreement separately from the rest of the Convention. Already 69 countries including a majority of those the ban applies to, have ratified the amendment.

The recommendation by the GAO report makes no mention of the Ban Amendment. If the U.S. were to ratify the Basel Convention, without the Ban Amendment or other legislation to make e-waste exports illegal, then in fact we would be making it easier, not harder, for recyclers to legally dump e-waste in developing nations. Currently, most developed countries cannot legally accept shipments from the U.S. because the treaty forbids Basel Parties from trading with non-Basel Parties such as the U.S. If the U.S. ratifies the Basel Convention, without simultaneously ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment, exports that are currently illegal would become legal.

For this reason, the Electronics TakeBack Campaign and the Basel Action Network support legislation banning hazardous electronic waste as the first step, and after that is in place proceeding with ratifying the entire Basel package – the Convention with the Ban Amendment.

“Implementing the Basel Convention by itself will do more to legitimize shipments of electronic waste then it will to prohibit them,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. “The Administration must first ensure that a ban on exports to developing countries for hazardous wastes such as electronic waste is firmly in place as Basel alone could open the flood gates even wider.”


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