In the first case where criminal charges have been brought against an electronic-waste exporter, the federal government today charged two executives of Executive Recycling Inc., a Denver, Colorado electronics recycling firm, with multiple crimes. Executive Recycling CEO Brandon Richter and Tor Olson, vice president of operations, were indicted on 16 counts, including wire and mail fraud, environmental crimes, exportation contrary to law, and destruction, alteration, or falsification of records.
The charges were brought in conection with shipments of e-waste going to developing countries. Informal processing of e-waste without safety provisions can cause serious health and pollution problems. Some electronics, such as the cathode ray tubes of old computer monitors, contain lead, cadmium, beryllium, and others may contain brominated flame retardants.
The federal government first became aware of the alleged violations following an investigation by Basel Action Network, BAN, a Seattle-based toxic trade watchdog.
After 30 months of investigations, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations team and a team from the U.S. EPA Criminal Investigation Division laid charges today.
The investigation was brought to public attention when BAN worked with CBS's 60 Minutes news magazine in an episode entitled "The Wasteland."
In 2007 and 2008, BAN volunteers photographed 21 sea-going containers at Executive Recycling's loading docks that they tracked across the world, with most ending up in China.
BAN then alerted the Government Accountability Office and 60 Minutes, and together the groups documented U.S. businesses posing as responsible electronics recyclers but instead shipping e-waste to developing countries where it was processed in what BAN calls "deadly, polluting operations."
"This is a major victory for global environmental justice," said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett.According to the federal grand jury indictment, Executive Recycling was responsible for at least 300 such exports, including shipments of more than 100,000 toxic cathode ray tubes that netted the company $1.8 million.
"Even before we have a U.S. law in place to explicitly prohibit this dumping on developing countries, the U.S. government's criminal justice system has recognized the massive toxic trade we first discovered in 2001 as fraudulent, as smuggling, and as an environmental crime," said Puckett. "Now these sham recyclers are warned: their shameful practices can land them in jail."
Legislation has been proposed in both the House and the Senate to prohibit the export of toxic electronic waste to developing countries.
Such an export prohibition already exists in Europe.
In 2008, the U.S. Government Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, criticized the EPA and uncontrolled e-waste exports in a strongly worded report. EPA enforcers themselves have said that the United States lacks clear laws to combat the global e-waste dumping practice.
"Sadly, Executive Recycling is just the tip of the e-waste iceberg," said Puckett. "They are but one of hundreds of fake recyclers who sell greenness and responsibility but in fact practice global dumping."
Puckett advocates passing federal legislation to ban dumping e-waste in developing countries. He urges anyone disposing of electronic waste to use only Certified e-Stewards® Recyclers who will not export old toxic computers and TVs to a developing country.
Executive Recycling still operates in the Denver area and has had e-waste recycling contracts with the cities of Denver, Boulder, and Broomfield and the El Paso County and Jefferson County governments.
The company is registered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as a "Large Quantity Handler of Universal Waste."
The United States is the world leader in producing electronic waste, tossing out about three million tons each year.
China already produces about 2.3 million tons (2010 estimate) domestically, second only to the United States. And, despite having banned e-waste imports, China remains an e-waste dumping ground for developed countries.
According to a report by UNEP titled, "Recycling - from E-Waste to Resources," the amount of e-waste being produced - including mobile phones and computers - could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade in some countries, such as India.