ISRI Electronics Recycling Study Interpretation Irresponsible
Seattle, WA. October 17, 2011. -- A recent claim by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries that e-waste exportation from the US to developing countries is no longer a problem is “sadly mistaken” according to the toxic trade watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN). BAN claims that ISRI first obtained badly compromised data from the study and then manipulated that to make their case, rather than report what is obvious to everyone in the business and in journalism who has seen the global e-waste dumping grounds in China, Nigeria, India, Ghana and elsewhere.
“The ISRI-sponsored report doesn’t pass the smell test,” says Jim Puckett, BAN's Executive Director. “Basic analysis reveals it to be even worse than a case of garbage in, garbage out. ISRI puts its fingers on the scale of even the flawed data. The resulting conclusions are both inaccurate and irresponsible.”
The report, paid for by ISRI but conducted by the International Data Corporation, is based on a voluntary survey of 182 companies, mostly recyclers. Part of the survey asked recyclers if they export e-waste, but according to BAN, any voluntary survey asking respondents to report shameful or illegal activity will not produce reliable data.
“It's like asking people if they cheat on their taxes and then expecting an accurate result,” said Puckett. “If it were that easy, the EPA would not be spending more than a million dollars right now to try to quantify volumes and waste flows from the US, and the extensive Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (2008) would have provided the figures at that time.”
But even assuming the responses were all honest, BAN notes that ISRI conveniently misinterprets the IDC data. ISRI’s Eric Harris presented the survey results stating that only 20 percent of recyclers claimed export and “78.66% of respondents say their output was traded, sold and/or transferred within the US – and that 'much of this output is further sold into the US and global marketplace.'” He falsely concludes that “electronics are recycled in America, not ‘dumped’ overseas.” What he fails to mention, and what ISRI’s subsequent press release also omits, is that the 78.66% figure could easily include exports that move via US middlemen.
Understanding how e-waste moves in the United States and how it is then exported to developing countries is key to understanding how ISRI manipulates the data and comes to false conclusions. Most exporting recyclers either use brokers with a US address, or they sell to another US company which then uses a broker. When a US recycler resells e-waste to a US broker, it does not mean the e-waste is "recycled in America" as ISRI falsely claims. Why? Because the broker simply turns around and ships the e-waste to a developing country. It's a common practice used by irresponsible US recyclers to disguise the fact they are dumping overseas.
Mr. David Daoud, the IDC author of the report, confirmed that any number of these respondents could use such brokers to export e-waste and still remain in this 78.66% slice of the pie. The practice was most recently documented in the case of Intercon Solutions, a large midwest recycler that BAN exposed as using brokers as "cloaking agents" to export the material to Hong Kong. (BAN alerted Hong Kong authorities to the Intercon export, and these authorities turned back the shipments.)
In sum, most or all of the 78.66% volume that ISRI claims is "recycled in the US" could simply have been exported by brokers. Add that to the 20% of recyclers who already claim they export, and this same study can be interpreted as showing that up to 100% of respondents’ e-waste was exported.
ISRI’s press release on the report contains other distortions. ISRI reports that 70% of end-of-life electronics is processed in the United States and sold at home or in the global marketplace as “commodity grade scrap.” However, “commodity grade scrap” is not a meaningful term when it comes to judging how much hazardous e-waste is being exported to developing countries. Much of ISRI’s so-called “commodity grade scrap” is in fact hazardous waste under international law.
It is clear the report data has little statistical value for reaching valid conclusions about the export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries from the United States. While there is no reliable trade data on e-waste, there is very significant anecdotal evidence (see Appendix below) indicating a very serious export problem remains. It is foolish and irresponsible to ignore the problem or deny it exists in the absence of comprehensive figures.
“If a doctor were to observe a massive hemorrhaging of a patient brought to the hospital, he would not wait to act until he had the numbers of how many liters of blood were lost,” said Puckett. “The responsible thing to do would be to take emergency action to staunch the flow. It is abundantly apparent that we need US legislation to end this despicable global dumping."
BAN and many environmental organizations have joined Dell, Apple, HP and Best Buy in supporting the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act now before Congress to prohibit export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries.
For more information contact:
Jim Puckett, Tel: 206-652-5555, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Enberg, Tel: 206-652-5555, email: email@example.com
Sample evidence of mass exportation of e-waste from the United States to developing countries
Mr. Gary Tam, of the Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong, reported to INTERPOL that Hong Kong intercepted 322 illegal shipments – full containers – of hazardous e-waste from 2007 to 2009. The three-month average weight of intercepted illegal hazardous e-waste, at the end of that period, was about 150,000 tons. This is a fraction of the likely e-waste flow as only a small number of containers moving into Hong Kong are inspected.
Likewise, the US EPA has been counting and collecting evidence. Along with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security, the EPA filed criminal charges against Executive Recycling for at least 300 incidents of illegal exporting of e-waste to developing countries between 2005 and 2008.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) set up fictional brokers in Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Singapore and Vietnam, and caught scores of US recyclers illegally exporting e-waste. The GAO's 2008 report provides irrefutable evidence, and little has changed since publication to decrease opportunities for exporting.
Credible investigative news programs such as Frontline/World's Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground and CBS’s 60 Minutes offer convincing photos and eye-witness accounts of ample of e-waste dumping in developing countries by US and European businesses.
In the past three years, BAN itself has tracked 325 containers, 250 (or 77%) of which were exported from North America to Hong Kong, Vietnam and other developing countries. BAN has documented those containers leaving e-waste recycling facilities and informed competent authorities in country. In most cases, the governments have rejected these containers of e-waste as illegal for import into their countries.
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